Ohio State is on tap this week as the Spartans will play in the first true cold weather game of the year. Should be a good test for both sides and while last year’s game was a blowout, the six games between these two teams before that yielded a score differential of just two points total, in MSU’s favor. So if you are playing close games, special teams can always be a factor. Here’s how they stack up.
Matt Coghlin made his only field goal last week against Maryland and converted all three extra point attempts. He is 12-for-13 in field goals with the only miss a block, and 23-for-23 on extra points. For his career at MSU he is 27-for-32 in field goal attempts, good for 84.4%, which appears to be the best career percentage in school history. He’s never missed in 61 extra point attempts either, which I know is at worst tied for the best there. Dan Conroy made 118-of-119 attempts in his career, which is pretty good.
The Buckeyes place kicking game is pretty meh, mostly because they just score touchdowns so kicking isn’t really needed. They have 11 total field goal attempts on the season and have made eight of them. Senior kicker Sean Nuernberger is 3-for-5 on the season, but has missed the last three games due to injury. Taking over is sophomore Blake Haubeil, who has made five of his six tries. The two have made all 48 extra point attempts.
It was not a great punting performance for MSU punter number three Bryce Baringer last week against Maryland as he punted six times an averaged 28.83 yards per punt. The results were kind of all over the place. He had two punts of 50+ yards, and two punts downed inside the Maryland 20-yard line. But he also had two shanks for 16 and eight yards.
The wind was a factor both positive and negative in that game, and while it isn’t supposed to be super windy on Saturday in East Lansing, there will be some wind. That could factor into the punting game, but MSU cannot afford to be giving this Ohio State offense short fields because of shanked punts.
OSU punter Drue Chrisman has fewer punts through nine games than MSU punter number two Tyler Hunt had in five games. When he is called upon, Chrisman has delivered. He’s averaging a little over 44 yards per punt this year, right on par with where he was last year.
The Spartans are up to 18th nationally in kickoff return average at 24.57 yards per return. That is the fifth best average for team without a kickoff return touchdown. This average was improved upon after last week when Connor Heyward took MSU’s only return attempt for 49 yards.
Heyward is now averaging 22.9 yards per kickoff return on 10 attempts for the season. He’s started to show some game breaking abilities in both the running game and the return game, showcasing his speed to go with his size.
It will be tough to break one this week though. Ohio State is fifth in the nation in kickoff coverage allowing only 15.28 yards per return. Although they are only 79th in touchback percentage, so Heyward will likely get some chances.
On the flip side, the Buckeyes have not been very explosive in the kickoff return game. They rank 95th overall with an average return of 18.82 yards. Senior wideout Johnnie Dixon has been the primary returner, with 12 returns averaging 20 per attempt.
The Spartans are a solid 26th in kickoff coverage, allowing an average of 18.36 yards per return. The touchback percentage has come down as the weather has gotten more volatile, now at 47.83%, middle of the road at 63rd nationally. Still that is a big improvement over last season.
This remains an issue for Michigan State, as they rank 104th in punt return average at just 6.12 yards per return attempt. Brandon Sowards remains the primary option back there, and has averaged 6.67 yards per return. But he has had some issues catching the punts and there have been multiple muffs over the last few weeks. The Spartans can’t afford that this week against Ohio State’s offense.
Ohio State covers punts very well, ranking 13th nationally allowing only 3.78 yards per return. And they yield only one return attempt a game, which means most of the time teams don’t even try it.
The Buckeyes aren’t much in the punt return game either, averaging 6.95 yards per return, ranking 96th overall. C.J. Saunders and K.J. Hill have split the bulk of the duties, with each logging eight return attempts to lead the team. Saunders has fared slightly better, with a 6.25 yard average, while Hill is at just 4.38 yards per return.
Despite the turnover at punter, the Spartan coverage unit has gotten the job done. They are 30th in the country allowing 5.63 yards per punt return. And if you are a regular reader of this piece, you know that they have faced some tough punt returners this year and managed to hold them all in check. Again, this despite working on their third punter of the year.
I am going to give the edge to Michigan State heading into this one. The Buckeyes have the edge in punter, but MSU is better at kicker and kickoff returns, while the teams push at punt returner. As long as Baringer can keep from shanking a couple punts, the Spartans should have a solid edge on special teams.