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Published: Thursday, 10/7/2004

Special teams the difference

BY JOHN WAGNER
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

BOWLING GREEN - When analyzing a college football team, fans are often conditioned to look only at the squad's offense and defense.

Can a team run the ball? Can it throw the ball? And can it stop its opponents when they try to run or pass?

Fans hoping to analyze the game Saturday between Bowling Green and Central Michigan should focus on a different area: special teams.

The Falcons played well on special teams in whipping Temple 70-16 Saturday. BG not only rolled up 149 yards on returns but also pinned the Owls inside their 24-yard line on all but two of 14 drives.

"They [coaches] really stress that a lot, because those plays on special teams can give you a touchdown or great field position," said BG punt returner Charles Sharon. "It can be the key to winning the game if your offense isn't producing and your defense is stopping them. So everybody sees the importance [of special teams]."

Central Michigan proved that point with three blocked kicks in a 24-21 win over Kent State Saturday. Daniel Bazuin blocked two fourth-quarter field-goal attempts by the Golden Flashes, including one in the final moments, to preserve the win.

Teammate James King has blocked 11 kicks in his career, and as a team the Chippewas have blocked four kicks this season.

According to BG coach Gregg Brandon, King has been a superb special-teams performer for Central for some time. "He has a knack for blocking kicks," Brandon said, adding that "Bazuin played against us last year as a true freshman, and he's elevated his game. We're looking for him, to figure out where he's lined up, because we have to account for him."

Meanwhile the Chippewas also have the MAC's statistical leaders in punt and kickoff returns. Start High School grad Asante White has returned five punts 156 yards for a league-best average of 31.2 yards per return, and Damien Linson's average of 30 yards per punt return also tops the conference.

First-year Central Michigan coach Brian Kelly said strong special-teams play is one way for a new coach to make an immediate impact on a program.

Good special-teams play "allows you an opportunity to compete right away," Kelly said. "It gives you a chance in ball games. In college football, the landscape is such that you want to find a way to win. And we need the help; we need the short field to operate offensively, and we need the long field to operate defensively."

Brandon said Kelly has used special teams to pump up his new squad's confidence.

"You measure a team's heart and attitude by their special-teams play, and I think they're playing with a lot of heart and intensity," Brandon said. "Coach Kelly has got them believing they can win."

Brandon said he has had no problem getting his team to believe that special teams are an important part of the game.

"We challenge our special teams every week," he said. "Coach [John] Bowers does a great job presenting a special-teams game plan. And we approach that just like offense and defense, looking for ways to win the game that way."

While the Falcon offense and defense certainly played big roles in the win over Temple, Brandon was impressed with BG's special-teams play against the Owls.

"[Kicker] Shaun Suisham was outstanding. His kickoffs were excellent; he kicked a few out [of the end zone], and when he didn't he put great hang-time on them.

"Our punt team has done a great job of covering punts. [Punter] Nate [Fry] needs to do a better job of getting the ball down the field. He needs to be more consistent week-to-week; when he starts doing that I'll start talking about him being a great punter."

Bowling Green also has return men ranked among the MAC leaders.

B.J. Lane stands second in kickoff returns with an average of 25.1 yards, and Sharon is sixth in punt returns with 15.4 yards per return.

Among Sharon's nine punt returns was a 79-yarder for a touchdown against Southeast Missouri.

Sharon said it isn't hard to see what Bowling Green's special teams need to do to be special.

"We need to have everybody do their job, whether it's blocking the right person or just making somebody miss on a punt return or a kickoff return," he said.

Contact John Wagner at:

jwagner@theblade.com

or 419-724-6481.



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