Fiesta Bowl Preview: Special Teams


Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

Punter Ryan Doerr (holding) and kicker Anthony Cantele may be part of a special teams
advantage that allows K-State to emerge victorious over the Oregon Ducks in the Fiesta Bowl.

If you’ve read a preview of tonight’s game, or watched ESPN recently, or have an XM radio tuned to sports talk, you know that Oregon is faster than K-State. They’re more skilled, talented, and K-State must play flawlessly to emerge victorious in the Fiesta Bowl. Blah, blah, blah. And maybe it’s true that Oregon has an advantage in several areas of the field, but there’s one aspect of this game that will swing dramatically in K-State’s favor: special teams play.

It starts with the initial kickoff. Oregon doesn’t even have a kicker capable of handling both kickoff and field goal duties, and employs two different players. Immediate observation: the team is forced to choose between distance and accuracy. If K-State can force a 4th and 10 from the 25, Oregon isn’t capable of making that attempt. In fact, Oregon is only five of 12 on field goal attempts this year (this paragraph isn’t just hyperbole – Oregon’s really awful on special teams). Additionally, their punting game has been a mess. Although Jackson Rice had a great year in 2011, the senior was last in the Pac 12 with 39.6 yards per punt this year.

The one special teams player Oregon can be proud of is De’Anthony Thomas. The sophomore running back is extremely quick and shifty, standing at only 5-9, 176 lbs. However, his production has been limited this year as the blocking units have failed to provide premium protection. The team is averaging just under 15 yards per punt return, and 17 yards per kick return. On the other hand, K-State averages a full seven yards more per punt return (22) and 11 more yards per kick return (28.5). While Tyler Lockett has been the primary kick return threat, Tramaine Thompson has assumed the majority of punt returns this year. Lockett has four returns for touchdowns under his belt.

Moving back to the legs K-State brings to the game, Anthony Cantele and Ryan Doerr were both credited with all-conference recognition in 2012. Cantele managed to hit 18 of 21 field goals and all 62 of his extra-point attempts this year. Doerr has been equally impressive, and was the Big 12 Special Teams Player Of The Week after all five of his punts against Oklahoma were downed inside the 20 yard line. On the season, Doerr has pinned teams within their own 20-yard line 14 times.

There is no question which team will enjoy better field position in the Fiesta Bowl tonight. And in a close game, only one team has a reliable option to nail a last-minute or overtime field goal. Forget the Vegas lines and prognosticators – there a lot of reasons out there to feel good about K-State’s chance tonight.

To catch up on The Jug’s earlier Fiesta Bowl previews, click here for K-State’s offensive expectations and here for K-State’s defensive expectations. And be sure to check back with following every quarter of action for live analysis of the game.