Special teams are key

With parity becoming increasingly prevalent in college football, the gap between the haves and the have-nots seems to decrease on a weekly basis … and the importance of special teams seems to increase on a weekly basis.

Almost every team nowadays has a strong-armed quarterback, speedy receivers, a shifty tailback and a bunch of 300-pound blockers. Almost every team has some big uglies for its defensive front, some versatile athletes for its linebacking corps and a troupe of acrobats for its secondary. As a result, more and more games are being determined by whose special teams perform best.

Consider Saturday's SEC games:

- Kentucky scored two touchdowns because of kickoff returns. Keenan Burton returned the opening kickoff 93 yards to set up a TD and Rafael Little returned a subsequent kickoff 99 yards for another score. Those 14 points provided the winning edge in the Big Blue's 41-29 defeat of Idaho State.

- Louisiana State, outplayed from scrimmage, won because it scored two touchdowns on blocked kicks. The Tigers returned a blocked field goal 55 yards for a TD and returned a blocked punt 29 for another score. Those 14 points were pivotal as LSU knocked off Arizona State 35-31.

- South Carolina squandered four potential points because of a missed PAT and a missed field goal. Those points proved to be the difference in a 17-15 loss at Georgia.

Clearly, special-teams play often proves decisive in close games. And, with Tennessee likely to have close games at Florida and LSU the next two weekends, the Vols definitely need better special-teams play than they got in Game 1 vs. UAB. Britton Colquitt punted once for a so-so 38 yards. James Wilhoit hit a 46-yard field goal but missed a 47-yarder. Jonathan Hefney returned one punt for zero yards, while Robert Meachem and Inky Johnson combined to average just 16.3 yards on three kickoff returns.

Tennessee needs to fine-tune its special-teams play this week. The better the Vols' special-teams play is, the better their chances are to win at Gainesville and Baton Rouge these next two weekends.


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