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Special Teams Breakdown: Ohio State

The Buckeyes bring a solid kicking game and great coverage units into the game.

NCAA Football: Cotton Bowl-Ohio State vs Southern California Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

It was a better week for the MSU specials teams against Indiana, although there is still some room for improvement. In order for the Spartans to have a chance this week they can’t afford any catastrophic mistakes on special teams, and they could probably use a big play or two of their own as well.

Place Kicking

Matt Coghlin missed his first field goal attempt of the game, but bounced back to make the last two, including the game winner with five seconds to go in the game.

Coghlin missed from 43-yards out on the first drive of the game, but got back on track by making a 44-yarder with about three-and-a-half minutes to go in the fourth quarter to put MSU up seven. It was a big moment and a big kick, and hopefully it helped him get his confidence back.

The game winner was basically an extra point from the middle of the field, and a miss would have really been concerning.

Coghlin is now 10-for-15 on the season, and while most of his misses have been from distance, there is a good chance MSU is going to need him to make more than a few more from 40+ yards before the season is over.

Ohio State

The Buckeyes kicker is junior Blake Haubeil, who is 3-for-4 on the year on field goals and 35-for-35 on extra points. Haubeil last year for OSU was 10-for-13 in field goals and 37-for-37 on extra points.

Ohio State hasn’t needed a lot of field goal attempts, and Haubeil has attempted just one field goal over 40 yards, which he made from 46-yards out. His career long is 47-yards and came last year against Minnesota.


Jake Hartbarger continues to boom the ball whenever called upon. Last week he had four punts against Indiana and averaged 54.25 yards per punt, with a long of 60 yards. Three of the four punts went at least 50 yards and two of them landed inside the Indiana 20-yard line.

Hartbarger has punted the ball 20 times this year, and half of those punts have gone at least 50 yards. He is now averaging 47.9 yards per punt, which would tie Brandon Fields for the best single season punting average in school history.

Hartbarger is also four punts away from passing Fields for the eighth most punts in MSU history.

Ohio State

Junior Drue Chrisman is in his third season as the punter for Ohio State. He is averaging 46.31 yards per punt on 13 punts this year, and has averaged 44 yards even for his three year career.

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Spartan fans will remember Chrisman’s performance last year in East Lansing, if they want to have more nightmares about field position. Chrisman dropped five second half punts inside the MSU six-yard line, leading to all kinds of issues including an intentional safety.

Kickoff Returns

MSU had two kickoff returns last week, both taken by Darrell Stewart, averaging 21 yards. Stewart has been the main kickoff returner after the injury to Jalen Nailor and is averaging a respectable 22.17 yards per return.

For the season MSU is averaging 19.90 yards per return, which is 81st in the country.

The Buckeyes are among the nation’s best in kickoff coverage, allowing just 15.65 yards per return, good for 14th in the country.

Ohio State

The Buckeyes are 63rd in kickoff return average checking in at 21.25 yards per return. Junior running back Demario McCall has the bulk of the returns for OSU, averaging 22.14 yards per return.

The Spartans are 71st in kickoff coverage, allowing an average return of 21 yards.

Punt Returns

Brandon Sowards handled the punt return duties last week and attempted one return, busting a 22-yarder late in the game to set up a go-ahead touchdown drive for MSU.

Sowards has now attempted three returns this year and is averaging 16 yards per return. He has been much improved in this area from a year ago. Sowards was of course victimized by the spectacular punting by Ohio State last year, so if anyone is looking for some redemption in that area, it’s him.

However, Ohio State has allowed just four total yards on four punt returns so far this year, so don’t bank on a big return this week.

Ohio State

The Buckeyes have deployed a variety of punt returners this year, with McCall and senior wideout KJ Hill getting the most attempts. Garrett Wilson has two returns that have averaged 27 yards.

As a team OSU is 41st in the country averaging 11.13 yards per punt return.

On the flip side, the Spartans are giving up 5.7 yards per punt return on 10 total attempts, which is 49th overall.


Cole Hahn started the day kicking off for MSU, but averaged less than 60 yards per kick, and didn’t get a touchback.

Matt Coghlin then attempted a pair of kickoffs for the first time in his career, getting one touchback on two kicks.

Michigan State is 109th in kickoff yard average and 96th in touchback percentage.

Ohio State

The Buckeyes aren’t great in this area either. They are 109th in touchback percentage and 99th in kickoff average.


This feels like a pretty even matchup in terms of special teams. Both kickers and punters are good and the coverage units are similar. I would say Ohio State might have the advantage in terms of punt returners, but I don’t see Hartbarger letting them get any good chances.

Call this one a push and hope that if one team makes the better special teams plays on the day, that it is Michigan State, because the Spartans are going to need to be nearly perfect in all three phases to pull this one out.