UVA leads the nation in punt returns. Yay! OK, slow your roll. The Cavs are averaging 26.0 yards per return, but it’s a small sample size that is the story. Six returns, one of them 74 for a touchdown against FCS William and Mary.
Aside from that asterisk, the special teams have been anything other than special.
Ian Frye, a preseason award candidate, has missed three of his six field-goal attempts. Punter Nicholas Conte is averaging 46.7 yards per kick, but only three of his punts have been downed inside the 20, and he had one blocked.
And even with the good kicks, the punt-coverage team is 13th in the ACC, giving up 6.2 yards per punt, pushing the unit overall to 10th in the conference in net punting average (36.8 yards per kick).
The kick-return unit is ranked 12th in the ACC (19.7 yards per return). Kick coverage has been a bright spot, ranked third in the conference.
Even giving the punt-return unit credit that is probably not deserved because it’s basically one big play, special teams have had a drag effect, with the kick-return team putting the offense in bad field position to start drives after scores, the punting unit effectively giving up more field position, the placekicker bordering on unreliable, and the only grouping worth a crap, the kickoff-coverage team, having its work undone by the ACC’s worst defense.
The floor is yours, Mike London.
“Just the technique and the fundamentals of special teams play and decision-making, that when it comes down to that time that you feel like you’ve practiced and you’ve addressed it, last-second field goals when you’re running on to the field and there is only a certain amount of time left to get everybody getting on the field, and hurrying up and getting the ball set. A number of things like that to take care of ourselves.”
Focus on technique, fundamentals and decision-making. London said the punt unit has shored up its blocking scheme to try to prevent another block. That’s the technique and fundamentals. The kick-return unit could clearly benefit from better decision-making, with London telling the media, and you have to imagine his returners, that it’s “OK to take a knee sometimes two yards deep because the ball goes out to the 25-yard line.”
As for Frye, a weapon last year, when he was 22-for-27 on field goals, with three of his misses from 50+, London’s faith has not wavered.
“I believe in him. I believe in Ian Frye. I believe he’ll win,” London said. “He’ll kick some field goals here to help us win football games. He continues to keep working on it and working at it. It’s the opportunities that will be afforded to him that you can only kick your way out of it or kick your way through it. And I know he’s looking forward to having an opportunity to get back into a groove and into the swing of things particularly during the competition.”
– Story by Chris Graham