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HomeSportsUT
Published: Tuesday, 9/11/2007

Rockets special teams are anything but so far

BY MAUREEN FULTON
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

After two games, the University of Toledo statistically has had some of the worst special teams play in the country.

On Saturday, the Rockets will be facing a team that has had some of the best.

Kansas is leading the nation in kickoff return yardage. On the other end, UT has given up the second-most yards on kickoff returns of all 119 Division I-A teams. The Rockets are also second-to-last in I-A on their own kickoff returns and have had problems covering punts.

The overall poor performance on special teams cost the Rockets the game against Central Michigan, coach Tom Amstutz said.

"We had more yards than them offensively, so what does it come down to, field position and special teams," Amstutz said. "Those are things that are definitely correctable. We can cover kicks better, we can cover punts better."

CMU's average starting spot against UT was its 41-yard line. Players said yesterday the Rockets (0-2) need to step up their intensity on special teams.

"We just need more effort and more attitude there," soph-omore DaJuane Collins said. "At times it seems that guys are moving down the field and not giving all-out effort.

"As we were watching the film [Sunday] you could see the attitude and effort that everyone was running down with. Myself, I know I wasn't running as fast as I could be."

The Rockets are allowing 35.1 yards on kickoffs and 20.6 yards on punt returns. Senior Greg Hay said the faulty play was frustrating because, "It's not major things, it's just tackles being missed.

"We've got to be more aggressive on the special teams units, and we've got to have players who want to do that," Hay said.

Amstutz said coaches have again adjusted personnel on the units and will spend more time in practice this week on special teams. He said he will use both kickers, Michael Krispinsky and Brett Brodbeck.

Brodbeck kicked off against Purdue and Krispinsky against CMU. Neither has achieved the necessary hang time on their kicks or a consistent distance. UT went to shorter kicks in the second half against the Chippewas, but Amstutz said he doesn't want that to be the default strategy.

"That's part of our package, but I'd prefer to kick the ball deep and get some great coverage on it," Amstutz said. "We're going to mix it up."

Kansas (2-0) has played nearly flawlessly in its first two games, and special teams is no exception.

During KU's game against I-AA Southeastern Louisiana on Saturday, the Jayhawks offense had an average starting spot at the 50. KU has already had a punt return and a kickoff return for a touchdown.

Because they've only given up one touchdown in two games, the Jayhawks haven't returned many kicks. But kick returner Marcus Herford has averaged 41.2 yards per return in the first two games.

"The fact that balls have not been kicked into the end zone against us gives Marcus an opportunity," Kansas coach Mark Mangino said. "We've done a good job on that unit of putting hat on hat, getting leverage and blocking."

For UT to contend on the road, it needs to be able to fend off KU's strong return game. The players will be reminded of that all week.

"I encourage them to make it an emphasis, make it important in their mind," Amstutz said. "In a close game, it will make a difference."

NOTES: Amstutz did not comment on whether seniors Tyrrell Herbert, Nigel Morris or Sean Williamson would return as starters on defense against Kansas. Freshman Greg Harris, who left the CMU game with a leg injury, was not on the depth chart at cornerback. ... Junior Andre Redd has moved from wide receiver to cornerback to help the depleted secondary.

Contact Maureen Fulton at:

mfulton@theblade.com

or 419-724-6160.



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