The Florida special teams play has been largely impressive, as well as, unimpressive at the same time. Here is the breakdown. The kickers have been outstanding, with the exception of kickoffs, which seemingly improved against the ‘Dawgs. The return game has usually been disappointing, especially since the loss of Andre Caldwell, who broke his leg returning a kick against the Vols. The coverage has been inconsistent. They have produced some great plays, while allowing the opponent good field position other times.
Punter Eric Wilbur has been sensational and has nailed punts that have kept the opponent bottled up with 17 of his 43 kicks downed inside the 20 yard line. Wilbur had four punts downed inside the 20 yard line. He also had a fake punt go for 20 yards. He is averaging 41.7 yards per kick. Wilbur has only had one kick blocked.
#10 Eric Wilbur (P) 6-1 195 Jr. 2L Winter Park
#39 Chris Hetland (PK) 6-0 185 Jr. Sq. Leesburg
#43 James Smith (LS) 6-1 225 Fr. Sq. Gainesville
#97 Nick Fleming (HLD) 6-0 205 Sr. Sq. Kirkwood, Mo.
#16 Vernell Brown (PR) 5-8 165 Sr. 2L Gainesville
#2 Markus Manson (KR) 6-0 210 Fr. Sq. Tuscaloosa
#17 Gavin Dickey (KR) 5-11 205 Jr. 1L Tallahassee
Walk-on place kicker Chris Hetland has been spectacular. The Leesburg, Georgia native participated in six plays the past two years, and has hit on each of his eight attempts. Hetland has hit two from inside the thirty, three from inside the forty, and three from inside the fifty. His long is from 47 yards out against Wyoming. Hetland hit three field goals against Tennessee.
Before the Georgia game, Vernell Brown had not had a return go for more than 22 yards, and he was averaging just six yards per punt. Brown had three returns for 59 yards, including a 29 yard effort that helped set Florida up in Georgia territory. He now averages 7.6 yards per return. The Gators have blocked one punt this season.
The Gators have struggled with kickoff returns since Andre Caldwell broke his leg while making a return against Tennessee. Florida appears to have found two guys who I believe should put a scare in coverage teams. Running back Markus Manson and receiver Gavin Dickey have the tools to take the ball back or at the very least, set the Gators offense up in good position. Both of these players have good hands, run very well with the ball, and have the vision and speed to get them into the open field.
Analysis: Eric Wilbur has helped the Florida defense all season forcing opponents to start deep in their own territory. He has hit a two or three off the side of his foot, but is usually very consistent. Wilbur is currently fourth in the conference.
Chris Hetland has been the surprise story of the Florida special teams squad. He has hit each of his eight attempts this season, making him the only kicker in the conference to do so.
Look out for Manson and Dickey in the return game. These guys should be due for a breakout.