Michigan special teams preview

The Wolverines possess some serious talent among their special teamers, but they haven't been truly dominant this season.

Garrett Rivas was chosen as the first-team Big Ten kicker this season. He was also a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award. Through 12 games, Rivas has connected on 16-of-19 field goal attempts and 41-of-43 extra points. His three misses are from 22, 40, and 42 yards away. He has a powerful leg, evidenced by his 48-yard field goal in the season opener. But since then, he's hit just one field goal from 40 yards. His 89 points lead the Wolverines and he ranks 31st nationally in scoring, at nearly 7.5 points per game. For his career, he has connected on 63-of-81 field goal tries.

Rivas has also been handing the kickoff duties of since the midpoint of the season. Seven of his 39 kicks have forced touchbacks and opponents' average starting position is the 24-yardline. Opponents actually have a better kick-return average than the Wolverines this season (21.9 to 20.1). That bodes well for the Trojans, who seem to have found some real talent in kick returners C.J. Gable and Vincent Joseph.

Zoltan Mesko and Ryan Ross handle the punting duties for the Wolverines. Mesko has a huge leg and will handle the majority of the punts. He's averaging 41.5 yards per punt this season, with 16 of 44 kicks placed inside the 20 and a season-long of 64. He will be called upon to punt when the Wolverines are on their own side of the field.

Ryan Ross is more of a placement punter and has just 14 punts on the year. He's averaging just over 33 yards per punt, and has forced five fair catches and downed four inside the 20-yard line. Neither kicker has had a punt blocked this season and the Wolverine coverage unit is allowing just 7.5 yards per return.

While the Wolverine kicking games will be good, Michigan's return game has the potential to be spectacular. Steve Breaston is one of the most dangerous returners in the nation, handling both kickoffs as well as punts. This season, Breaston has an 83-yard punt return for a touchdown, giving him four for his career. He is averaging 11.4 yards on 29 punt returns this season and is second on the NCAA active career punt return yardage list. While Breaston is very quick and elusive in traffic, the Trojans have done well against some similar returners this season, including Cal's DeSean Jackson. USC punter Greg Woidneck will undoubtedly try to keep his kicks high and angled toward the sideline, preventing Breaston any shot of a big return.

Breaston will also be deep on kickoffs, but he seems to be less of a danger in that regard. He does have one career kickoff return for a touchdown, but this season, he's averaging 24.4 yards on 17 returns with a long of 64. This will be interesting to watch, however, as the Trojans will be using David Buehler as their kickoff specialist, with Troy Van Blarcom missing the game. Buehler has the leg to put the ball in the endzone, but he certainly hasn't been called on to showcase it in a game situation.

The Wolverines are good enough on both sides of the ball to make this special teams battle of utmost importance to the Trojans. USC cannot afford any huge physical or mental mistakes in the kicking game. In fact, the Trojans might be looking for a spark from their own special teams for a change.


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