Well the Maryland football team has certainly had a busy week haven’t they? They had their coach reinstated for the first time since before the season started, only to see him fired a day later due to public outcry. Then word breaks out of a fight in practice related to the situation. No one knows for sure what all is going on there, but it sounds awfully messy.
Meanwhile, the Spartans play at Maryland tomorrow afternoon. That means it’s time for the weekly special teams breakdown, back after a one week hiatus.
Matt Coghlin was named to the Groza Award semifinalist list this week. A deserving honor for the Spartans sophomore kicker. Coghlin saw his perfect season come to an end last week with a blocked field goal against Purdue. It was his first, and only miss of the season, and the first miss of any kind since October 28th of last year.
However, McMuffin was able to make three other attempts last week, bringing his total on the season to 11-for-12 on field goals and 20-for-20 on extra points. He remains as close to automatic as you can get.
The Terrapins have a freshman kicker, Joseph Petrino, who has not missed a kick this season. However, he has only attempted five field goals, with his long on the season being 40 yards. He is 34-for-34 on extra points.
Another week, another new punter for Michigan State. Enter Bryce Baringer, who was previously seen in the Indiana game sharing the duties before Tyler Hunt took over on a full time basis. With Hunt now lost for the season along with Hartbarger, the punting job falls to Baringer.
Bryce had a solid performance last week against Purdue, punting four times and averaging 38.5 yards per kick. He also had to worry about avoiding Rondale Moore and was able to do a pretty good job, limiting Moore to only two return attempts for eight total yards.
Maryland’s punter is junior Wade Lees, who is in his third season in the role. Lees is averaging 40.44 yards per punt this season, which would be a career best. He averaged a little over 39 yards per punt each of the previous two seasons.
The junior has a long this year of 62 yards and has five punts of at least 50 yards. He has dropped 15 of his 45 punts (33.3%) inside the 20 with only two touchbacks.
The Spartans continue to slide down the ranks in kickoff returns, this week checking in at 37th overall with an average return of 22.69 yards. Still solid, but unspectacular. They only had one kickoff return last week that went for 21 yards.
Connor Heyward continues to lead the way with nine returns and has an even 20 yard per return average.
The Terrapins are 86th in kickoff coverage, allowing 22.03 yards per return on average. The Spartans should get some attempts this weekend as Maryland is seventh worst in the country in touchback percentage at just 17.02 percent.
For Maryland, the kickoff return game is a strength. The Terps are 11th in the country with an average of 26.54 yards per return, and are tied for first in the nation with two kickoff return touchdowns.
Sophomore running back Ty Johnson has 14 returns and averages 27.21 yards per return with a touchdown. Fellow sophomore back Javon Leake has six returns and averages 30.83 yards per return and has the other TD.
To their credit, MSU has been pretty good in kickoff coverage, checking in at 25th overall allowing just 18.25 yards per return. Last week they covered six kickoff returns, the most in a game this year, and held Moore and Purdue to 20.33 yards per return.
MSU is down to 69th in touchback average at 46.34% after last week. Look for Cole Hahn to try and improve on that this week and minimize the attempts for Maryland’s explosive returners.
MSU had another gaffe on a punt return last week, their second in as many games that led to a turnover. It has been a little dicey back there since Cody White went down. Brandon Sowards remains the most trusted option back there, and he has done ok, averaging 6.88 yards per return. But he has let some kicks go that have gone the wrong way for MSU field position-wise.
Punt returns remain an empty area for MSU, who ranks 100th nationally at 6.19 yards per return. Meanwhile, Maryland gives up 9.50 yards per return, which ranks 83rd in the country, although they only allow a little over one return attempt per game.
While the Terrapins have been dangerous on kickoff returns, the same cannot be said for punts. They are actually worse than MSU at 112th nationally with an average return of just 5.43 yards.
Taivon Jacobs has handled 12 of the 14 punt returns for Maryland, and ranks second in punt return yards. Jacobs has just 28 yards on those 12 returns for a miniscule 2.33 average. Technically the best punt return of their season was turned in by defensive lineman Jesse Aniebonam, who took a blocked punt 45 yards to the house.
The Spartans have been solid in punt coverage despite the turnover at punter, holding opponents to a 5.94 yard return average, good for 43rd in the country.
This one feels like a tossup. The Spartans have the edge at kicker, while Maryland has the clear edge on kickoff returns. The punt return game is a wash. That leaves punter, where I would give Maryland the advantage with the veteran over the third string guy for MSU.
So I guess Maryland has the edge, although if MSU can neutralize the kickoff return game, I think the needle tips back to their side, because Coghlin has been just that good.