Monday, December 30, 2013

The National Championship Preview: FSU vs Auburn Special Teams

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In case you missed it, make sure to read my other two posts thus far!
Auburn's Offense vs FSU's Defense
FSU's Offense vs Auburn's Defense

I admit that I haven't done any research on FSU's abilities on special teams. Obviously, they haven't leaned on them to win any games this year. In fact, they have rarely had to use special teams at all, aside from a lot of kick-offs. So, let's not speculate.

What about FSU? Well, that's the thing. They haven't had to punt very much. He has half the punts of Clark. He averages 41 yards and has a 59 yarder. Additionally, their kicker is 90/90 on extra points. HE has made 19/20 field goals. His lone miss being one in the 40-50 category. He is 1/1 in 50+, however.

Auburn, on the other hand, has made great use of their special teams this year from the first plays of the year to the the very last. In the first game of the year, Tre Mason took a kickoff to the house in the 2nd quarter of the game. And, we all know how the last play of the regular season went down as Davis put on perhaps the best play in the history of college football.

Along the way, the Auburn Special Teams have been nearly flawless. Cody Parkey is 62/63 of extra points. The lone miss being a partial block. He is 14 for 19 in field goals. 4/4 under 30 yards. 3/4 from 30-40, and 5/6 from 40-50. Sure, he is 1/4 in the 50+ category, but let's not forget that he kicked the SEC Championship record of 52 yards. He has been able to send kick-offs out of the endzone on command.

Stephen Clark has been absolutely incredible punting the ball. In fact, the reason he didn't win the ray Guy award is because they say he "didn't punt enough." But the man averaged 42 yards per with a long of 57. Perhaps the most impressive thing he has done all year is his placement inside the 10 yard line. If he was on the 50 or closer, the other team was fighting out of the endzone, and that's all there was to it.

Now, both of these guys have had tremendous help from their coverage units. Auburn had suffered the last few years with the ups and downs of coverage. This year, however, they have been nearly flawless. One only has to look at the Iron Bowl to see Clark drop two punts inside the 5 yard line. The whole year was like that. Additionally, there were nearly zero big returns.

Auburn's return game has been phenomenal with at least 3 players having returned kicks for TDs this season. Additionally, Quan Bray has been on the verge of busting one for some time. They have scored in all phases of the kicking game.

So, what do I see happening? My whole "game breaker" that I have tried to sell you for Auburn has been that FSU hasn't had to play a whole game. I believe their lack of both experience and preparation on special teams will be amplified. One thing the SEC has that no other conference has is the depth per team to field outstanding special teams. It's not just where young players cut their teeth or older players who aren't starters end up. Everyone on an SEC special teams unit is a premier player. Auburn has really personified this by playing it's starters on specials teams without abandon. While I DO believe that FSU has this amount of talent, they haven't played another team who does. They certainly haven't played a team with playmakers like Grant, Mason, Davis, and Bray. I admit that I don't think Bray will be handling punts in this game. Instead, I expect to see a healthy dose of Davis, who may have punched his ticket to the NFL this year.

The Line
Clark will do what he has done all year. He will pin FSU deep, knocking the punts cold. The biggest thing I see is that Parkey will hit 2 clutch field goals to win OR there will be one special teams TD for Auburn. oen way or the other, Special Teams contributes 6 points.

Auburn 55-FSU 38