Five for 10: Special Teams Improvement

Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury has stated repeatedly the goal every year is to win the Big 12 championship. In order to do that the Red Raiders must win at least 10 games as the last team to win a Big 12 title with less than 10 regular season victories was Colorado back in 2001. With that in mind RaiderPower.com is doing a five-part series analyzing what Tech must do in order to get to 10 wins.

Darrin Chiaverini enters his inaugural season helming Texas Tech’s special teams with a sizeable task on his hands. As a full-time special teams coordinator, he becomes the first occupant of that position since Eric Russell headed up Tech’s special teams in 2009. And the cumulative effects of an insufficient coaching emphasis of this unit may have shown last season.

For 2013, Texas Tech was statistically in the bottom half of all FBS programs in five of eight special teams categories examined, and in the bottom third in three of those categories. The areas Tech most needs to show improvement if they hope to have a special season are punt returns, extra point conversions, kickoff yardage, punt return coverage and kickoff return coverage.

In punt return yardage, the Red Raiders were No. 85 nationally averaging 6.84 yards per return. Chief returner Sadale Foster, who averaged 7.9 yards per return, has exhausted his eligibility. The only returner with real experience is Jordan Davis who averaged 3.4 yards per return in 2013. Clearly, Davis must improve dramatically if he hopes to get opportunities to return punts this season. Junior college transfer Devin Lauderdale could be a factor here, as well as incoming freshmen Cameron Batson and Ian Sadler.

PAT kicking was another sore spot. Returning kicker Ryan Bustin hit 52 of 55 PATs, which put Tech at No. 100 nationally in PAT percentage. What’s more, Bustin looked shaky at best during spring camp. Should Bustin falter, look for true freshman Clayton Hatfield to get a shot at the job.

The third area of weakness in 2013 was kickoff yardage. Tech averaged 61.24 yards per kickoff, which was 63rd in the nation. Kramer Fyfe and Taylor Symmank were Tech’s kickoff specialists, and both return, although Symmank will likely concentrate on punting duties inasmuch as he is currently the team’s starting punter. The aforementioned Hatfield could figure here as well.

Punt return coverage was the greatest special teams weakness a year ago. The Red Raiders were No. 101 out of 125 teams in this category, allowing 10.82 yards per punt return. Chiaverini will count on the likes of Kenny Williams, John White and Micah Awe to elevate this unit.

Kickoff return coverage was somewhat better than punt coverage, but still far from up to par. Tech allowed 21.81 yards per kickoff return, which was No. 75 nationally. Assuming injuries—particularly on defense—do not mount up, expect Tech to deploy as many of its top athletes as possible on coverage units in an attempt to raise performance to desired levels.

Special teams are the aspect of football few people are interested in discussing, but rare is the team with real weakness in this area that will win double-digit games. Tech’s special teams were not atrocious in 2013, but they definitely must improve if the Red Raiders are to make major waves in 2014

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