Focus on Special Teams: WSU vs. Rutgers

UNTIL DISASTER STRUCK, WSU was winning the special teams battle. It’s a fumble River Cracraft will likely replay in his mind over and over. But Cracraft’s fumble didn’t lose the game, there were plenty of other deficits WSU showed against Rutgers. But strictly in terms of special teams evaluation, it was a turning point killer.

In the fourth quarter, on a punt that would have given the Cougars possession with about eight minutes to go and a 38-34 lead, Cracraft elected to field the ball rather than fair catch with a gunner bearing down on him. Virtually as soon as he caught the ball, he was stripped by Rutgers’ Johnathan Aiken, and Rutgers recovered. The Scarlet Knights easily marched the rest of the way against a struggling WSU defense and that was that.

The normally sure-handed Cracraft had fielded two punts cleanly before he was stripped of the ball, and had beat out freshman cornerback Marcellus Pippins over the course of fall camp for the right to run punts back in games. But the untimely fumble proved especially costly.

In other areas of the special teams unit, Erik Powell was able to show off his leg after earning the starting job over Quentin Breshears. Powell was perfect on five extra-point attempts, and he also made a 22-yard field goal in the game. However, perhaps the one that will haunt him the most is the 50-yard attempt that he had at the end of the first half.

When Powell kicked it, the ball flew well and had plenty of distance to make it through the uprights. Unfortunately for him and for the Cougars, the right upright of the goal post stood in the ball’s way and redirected it toward the ground. The good news is that Powell’s leg has the strength to make long kicks like that. The bad news is that those three points lost were the difference in the final score of the game.

Rutgers’ kicker was perfect on Thursday night, drilling two field goals with a long of 36 yards, and knocking five extra point attempts through the uprights.

Freshman Jordan Dascalo boomed some punts as well during his brief time on the field Thursday night. His two boots averaged 40.5 yards each, and his long punt of the night was a 53-yarder. On the other side, Rutgers punter Joseph Roth averaged 36.0 yards per punt, which wasn’t much shorter than his long of the night, 37 yards.

The kick returners of the team each surpassed 100 yards, although each received plenty of opportunities to run the ball back. Kristoff Williams returned all the kicks for the Cougars, while Janarion Grant received all the kicks for the Scarlet Knights. Williams won the battle of the kick returns with seven attempts for 155 yards and an average of 22.1 yards per returns. By comparison, Grant had six returns for 131 yards and averaged 21.8 yards per return. Neither one broke free for touchdowns.

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