Ok so I was a little off last week when I said I thought the Spartans had the edge in special teams. Turns out the one solid special teams performer on Ohio State killed the Spartans by pinning them deep seemingly every time and causing the game to unravel very quickly.
Let’s hope for a better performance this week in what sounds like will be a cold and blustery environment in Lincoln.
Matt Coghlin accounted for all of MSU’s points last week connecting on two of three field goal attempts. He was good on kicks of 44 and 38 yards and missed from 51 yards out. The miss was his first non-block miss of the year.
For the season Coghlin is still a very solid 14-for-16 on field goals (87.5%) and 23-for-23 on extra points. For reference, Coghlin is attempting 2.3 extra point attempts per game, the lowest total since Dan Conroy’s 1.9 extra point attempts per game in 2012. Although Conroy did attempt 32 field goals that season.
The Huskers have a freshman kicker this year in Barret Pickering. He is 9-for-13 on field goal attempts and 38-of-39 on extra points. He has been perfect in the last four games, with his last miss coming at Northwestern, which was also the game he missed his only extra point of the season.
When these two teams match up, the punting game takes on new meaning, as these two teams will forever be linked in the loss they suffered two years ago when Mike Sadler and Sam Foltz were killed in a tragic car accident. The teams have yet to face off since the accident that occurred before the 2016 season, and will honor the two late punters before the game this weekend in Lincoln.
For the current Spartan punters, it’s been a weird season, and last week just added to it. William Przystup appeared out of nowhere to punt five times against the Buckeyes and average 46.2 yards per kick including a long of 52 yards. He became the fourth different MSU punter to punt the ball 50+ yards this year and the fifth different player to punt overall.
Bryce Baringer had a tougher week, punting three times and averaging just 30.3 yards per kick, with a long of 42 yards.
With the wind expected to be a factor this week, I wouldn’t be shocked to see both punters employed again, with Przystup drawing the duties against the wind with his lower, rugby style.
Nebraska has used a pair of punters this year, with Isaac Armstrong having taken over the gig that was started by Caleb Lightbourn. Armstrong is averaging 44.83 yards per kick this year, with a long of 73 yards. He has also dropped six of his 24 punts inside the 20 yard line.
The Spartans are holding on at 25th in the country in kickoff return average at 23.47 yards per return. Last week was not productive though as they had just eight total kick return yards on one attempt. Connor Heyward continues to get the work at kick returner, where he is averaging 21.55 yards per return.
The Huskers are 66th in the country in kickoff coverage, allowing 20.54 yards per return. They get touchbacks on 49.21% of their kickoffs, good for 57th in the country. Again, the wind could play a huge factor in the number of kickoff return attempts we see on Saturday.
Kickoff returns have not been an area of strength for the Huskers. Nebraska comes into the game 125th in the country out of 130 teams in kickoff return average at just 15.96 yards per return. The Spartans are 28th in the country in kickoff coverage, holding teams to 18.36 yards per return.
Nebraska has tried a variety of players at kickoff returner, with JD Spielman and Maurice Washington getting the bulk of the tries. Spielman is averaging 21.13 yards per return, and Washington 16.11 yards.
This was a disaster area for MSU last week as they had zero punt return attempts on nine punts. Six of those nine punts were downed inside the MSU 12-yard line.
Nationally, MSU is 103rd in punt returns, averaging 6.12 yards per return. Sowards continues to handle the return duties, and is averaging 6.67 yards when he actually catches it and tries a return.
The Huskers have not been great at punt coverage, allowing 11.53 yards per return, ranking 108th nationally. They have also given up two punt return touchdowns on the season.
On the flip side, Nebraska is 44th in punt return average at 10.92 yards per return. JD Spielman leads the way in this department with an average of 17.33 yards per return. He also has the team’s lone punt return touchdown, a 77-yarder against Bethune-Cookman.
The Spartan punt coverage has been pretty solid all things considered, checking in at 28th in the country at 5.24 yards per return. Last week they held K.J. Hill to just three yards on two returns.
Who even knows anymore? The Spartans have the edge at kicker, as Coghlin remains one of the best in the country. But the Huskers punting has been pretty strong since Armstrong took over. Neither team’s return games really stand out, although Spielman has some big play ability.
Really if it is going to be as windy as they say, 30+ mph, then that is going to be the biggest factor in the special teams game. The team that performs better will probably be the one that doesn’t have a big mistake like a mishandled snap, a muffed punt, or multiple shanks into the wind.
Let’s just hope the Spartans can manage to start a few drives beyond their own five yard line this week.