banner
Bob Holliday

Dangerous return men make kicking a challenge in the ACC

Posted August 6

UNC wide receiver Ryan Switzer (3) shakes a defender during action at Kenan Stadium between the University of North Carolina Tar Heels and the Duke University Blue Devils on November 30, 2013 in Chapel Hill, NC.

Perhaps Duke head coach David Cutcliffe best describes the challenge of kicking off and punting in today’s Atlantic Coast Conference.

“Location, location,” he says, “and I’m not talking about a restaurant.”

The Blue Devil kickers are fortunate that they don’t have to boot the ball to their own dangerous kick and punt return men, DeVon Edwards and Jamison Crowder, each of whom returned two kicks for touchdowns last season.

But the league’s return men put up a collective 21 touchdowns (eight on kickoffs and 13 on punts) and most of them have at least one more year of eligibility (several of the best have three more years).

Five ACC teams returned at least one kickoff for a touchdown in 2013. Seven ACC teams returned at least one punt for a touchdown last season. There is plenty of danger to go around. Jimbo Fisher, coach of national champion Florida State, cautions, “you must know who you’re kicking it to, and how you’re covering the kick.”

Kick returns and kick coverage played a prominent part in Florida State’s ending the SEC’s long domination of college football’s national title. The Seminoles averaged 28 yards per return in 2013, the top mark in the country.

They allowed opponents just 18 yards per return. FSU’s Levonte “Kermit” Whitfield ran a kickoff back 100 yards to help lift the ‘Noles over Auburn in last season’s penultimate game.

The Ryan Switzer factor

Pitt Coach Paul Chryst pulls no punches when discussing his team’s punt coverage against North Carolina.

“We knew about Ryan,” he says. “Ryan still was a factor.”

Yes he was. Ryan Switzer returned not just one, but two punts for touchdowns last autumn at Heinz Field. Chryst, the Panthers’ Coach, calls Switzer’s runbacks phenomenal, adding “he’s a special player, but at the same time, our guys have to be better.”

Switzer and UNC led the nation in punt returns. Switzer’s five scores in a season tied the NCAA record. The Tar Heels also took two kickoffs back for touchdowns (both times by T.J. Logan), giving them the top spot in ACC special teams’ touchdowns with seven.

UNC Coach Larry Fedora describes his program’s success this way: “We take pride in special teams. The culture we’ve created is that it’s special to play on special teams.”

Fedora credits Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer with making a strong kicking game “the thing to do.” During the 90’s and on into the new millennium, Virginia Tech became so proficient at scoring touchdowns with its offense on the sideline that kicking game (and special plays on defense) became an integral part of the Hokies’ football philosophy: "Beamer Ball," they called it.

“All of us know it can turn a game quickly,” says the longtime Virginia Tech mentor. Beamer, who is now the winningest active coach in major college football, acknowledges his rivals have caught up in special teams play.

“Everyone is coaching it better and teaching it better, with better personnel,” he said

And the veteran coach issues a word of caution to his fellow coaches: “You’d better put your starters on special teams.”

I feel confident in saying the ACC has never greeted a cast of kick return men like this:

  • Ryan Switzer, UNC 5 TD’s (punt returns)
  • Jamison Crowder, Duke 2 TD’s (punt returns)
  • Rashad Greene, FSU 2 TD’s (punt returns)
  • “Kermit” Whitfield, FSU 2 TD’s (kickoff returns)
  • T.J. Logan, UNC 2 TD’s (kickoff returns)
  • DeVon Edwards, Duke 2 TD’s (kickoff returns)
  • Jamal Golden, GT 2 TD’s (kickoff returns)
  • Stacy Coley, UM 2 TD’s (one kickoff, one punt)

There are four other players who returned one punt for a touchdown, and three other players who returned one kickoff for a touchdown. Oh, and let’s also add Miami’s Duke Johnson to the danger list. He ran two kickoffs back for touchdowns in 2012 (the year he wasn’t hurt). UNC’s T.J. Thorpe ran one kick back for a touchdown in 2011 and still ranks second in total yardage among “returning returners” with an aggregate total of 1,384 yards.

FSU’s Fisher, in perhaps something of an understatement, says “there are more dynamic return guys in the league.”

None of Fisher’s colleagues would quarrel with his observation that “you’ve got to constantly scheme, and put your best people on special teams.”

Duke of Miami and Duke of Cutcliffe

To get the players’ perspective on all the wild scoring these days in ACC special teams play, we went to “the Duke of Miami,” Duke Johnson. He gives blockers a great deal of the credit.

“There are dynamic guys running it back, but it’s the unselfish guys making the blocks,” Johnson says. “The ten blockers are making sure the eleventh guy scores.”

Strategy may play a part in big plays on kickoff returns. Duke’s Cutcliffe is quick to note “if the ball goes into the end zone, it’s a 25 yard line spot.”

Cutcliffe will take that kind of field position all day, but coaches players to “look for opportunities to run kicks back and put them to use.”

Miami’s Al Golden thinks there is something to the Cutcliffe strategy.

“Maybe you’re not covering as many runbacks as before (when the ball only came out to the 20 yard line on touchbacks). You’d better be ready every time and you’d better practice your coverage-often," he said.

While North Carolina received the most acclaim for its special teams play in 2013, two coaches wanted to give special mention to Duke.

“Duke had great special teams and maybe didn’t get enough credit there,” according to Miami’s Golden. Adds Pitt’s Chryst: “Duke won close games. Special teams are a huge momentum swing.”

So will this be a year when the return threats become so significant that coaches begin to change the paradigm on kicking game philosophy?

Kicking off into the end zone, and punting when outside your opponents’ 35 yard line are generally considered safe strategy. But look at the players on the receiving end. In this ACC, is a kick really that safe?

14 Comments

This blogpost is closed for comments.

Oldest First
View all
  • Doc Holliday Aug 8, 11:53 a.m.

    "Switzer and UNC led the nation in punt returns. Switzer’s five scores in a season tied the... View More

    — Posted by Doc Holliday

    Agree, B, but teams will be ready for him this year, and will have plans to shut him down. He's... View More

    — Posted by GunnyGoesBaaaarf

    Very true, Gunny, but the good ones find a way.

  • GunnyGoesBaaaarf Aug 8, 6:21 a.m.

    "Switzer and UNC led the nation in punt returns. Switzer’s five scores in a season tied the... View More

    — Posted by Doc Holliday

    Agree, B, but teams will be ready for him this year, and will have plans to shut him down. He's a tough nut, though, and I love his spirit and hope he stays healthy.

  • Mr. Middle of the Road Aug 7, 12:08 p.m.

    I am a State alum and fan but my hat is off to Switzer. He is good.

  • mxteam44 Aug 6, 9:20 p.m.

    Switzer will be even better this season. He was just trying to find his spot on the team, and survive last season. He sure makes punts fun to watch!

  • Doc Holliday Aug 6, 7:36 p.m.

    "Switzer and UNC led the nation in punt returns. Switzer’s five scores in a season tied the NCAA record."

    You don't do stuff like that without having some serious skills. Very good player....IMO

  • Toddler10-21 Aug 6, 7:30 p.m.

    How many easy games?

  • 123skipjack Aug 6, 6:16 p.m.

    Notice how nobody mentioned Switzer as a Heisman candidate.

    — Posted by KTS BAAAAAAACCCCCCCKKKKKKKKKK

    ...Thats because he isnt...Get real

  • 45HEELSFAN45 Aug 6, 4:40 p.m.

    The top 2 are dangerous return men, we will see how this plays out in terms of national prominence.

  • heelsforever Aug 6, 4:02 p.m.

    SwitZ... if he keeps it up and show a little @ WR his name will be all over the screen. But the... View More

    — Posted by Tarheel Takeover

    And when do you play Clemson or Florida State, again?

    — Posted by KTS BAAAAAAACCCCCCCKKKKKKKKKK

    Clemson on Sept. 27 in Death Valley
    Notre Dame on Oct. 11 in South Bend
    Miami, FL on Nov. 1 in Miami

    No Florida State this year. I don't believe it's the toughest schedule, but not the easiest either.

  • KTS BAAAAAAACCCCCCCKKKKKKKKKK Aug 6, 3:15 p.m.

    Notice how nobody mentioned Switzer as a Heisman candidate.

    — Posted by KTS BAAAAAAACCCCCCCKKKKKKKKKK

    Sounds like you think he should be a Heisman candidate since you bring it up.
    Switzer had to more... View More

    — Posted by HEELSrocknU

    No I absolutely do not think he should be a Heisman candidate. There is a reason that a WR/PR hasn't won a Heisman since Desmond "19 touchdowns" Howard.

More...

 

 

  • CBB: North Carolina vs. Ohio State

    Today at 1:00 pm on WRAL-TV

  • CBB: UCLA vs Kentucky

    Today at 3:30 pm on WRAL-TV

  • NFL: San Diego at San Francisco

    Tonight at 8:25 on WRAL-TV

  • NFL: Panthers vs. Cleveland

    Monday at 1:00 pm on WRAL-TV

  • CBB: UCLA at Kentucky

    Today at 3:15 pm on 99.9 The Fan

  • NFL: Philadelphia at Washington

    Today at 4:25 pm on 620am

  • NHL: Canes vs. NY Rangers

    Tonight at 7:00 on 99.9 The Fan

  • CBB: NC State at West Virginia

    Tonight at 9:30 on WRAL-FM

Scoreboard
Local
Final
PHI 91
CHA 109
1:00pm Today
UNC
OSU
 
4:00pm Today
MVSU
NCCU
 
7:00pm Tonight
UNCW
ECU
 
7:00pm Tonight
CAR
NYR
 
7:00pm Tonight
CHA
UTA
 
9:30pm Tonight
WVU
NCSU
 
Final
PHI 91
CHA 109
Final
ORL 94
UTA 101
Final
CLE 95
BRK 91
Final
BOS 114
MIN 98
Final
DET 100
TOR 110
Final
MIA 103
WAS 105
Final
MEM 97
CHI 103
Final
SAN 119
POR 129
Final
DEN 109
LAC 106
Final
LAL 103
OKC 104
1:00pm Today
NYK
PHO
 
7:00pm Tonight
NOP
POR
 
7:00pm Tonight
CHA
UTA
 
8:00pm Tonight
HOU
ATL
 
8:30pm Tonight
DAL
SAN
 
9:00pm Tonight
DEN
IND
 
10:30pm Tonight
LAC
MIL
 
11:00am Today
LALAF
NEV
2:20pm Today
UTEP
UTST
3:30pm Today
COLST
UTAH
5:45pm Tonight
AFA
WMICH
9:15pm Tonight
BGU
SALABAMA
Final
YOUNG 92
WILB 71
 
Final
TULA 56
JST 49
 
Final
RAD 76
SIENA 66
 
Final
BUCK 88
CASEWEST 65
 
Final
LIB 94
CPNC 65
 
Final
SCAR 68
CLEM 45
Final
CMICH 97
CONC 60
 
Final
MIAMI 44
EKENT 72
Final
GWEBB 91
HIWASSEE 71
 
Final
ODU 60
MDES 43
 
Final
BUF 88
NIAG 62
 
Final
KSU 71
NCAT 57
 
Final
FAM 65
UNF 83
 
Final
NORST 81
NARZ 62
 
Final
DART 58
NILL 55
 
Final
MORE 60
NKENTUCKY 83
 
Final
UCSB 69
SDCHR 46
 
Final
STJ 53
GAELS 47
Final
ALA 69
STILL 49
 
Final
HAMP 66
TENST 54
 
Final
TENN 61
TENT 58
Final
WMARY 86
WSHMD 46
 
Final
MERC 67
COOK 46
 
Final
FLGC 83
FUR 78
 
Final
CALST 49
SDKST 53
 
Final
MTST 68
CHAT 58
Final
NDAK 78
DICKINSON 48
 
Final
LAMON 76
LSUALEX 71
 
Final
PRIN 77
LIP 55
 
Final
LAM 80
MLGN 53
 
Final
MINN 92
SEAT 57
 
Final
LOYC 73
SUTAH 57
 
Final
SELA 81
WINT 71
 
Final
SILL 52
NO 56
 
Final
MARQ 83
ALAAM 49
 
Final
TTU 72
ARKPB 51
 
Final
DEN 84
COLST 85
Final
CREI 75
TXPA 60
 
Final
CAL 78
EWASH 67
Final
UTST 69
IDST 56
 
Final
UTEP 55
ARZ 60
Final
CHAM 63
HAW 94
 
12:00pm Today
GEOR
CHAR
 
12:00pm Today
WKENT
LOU
 
12:00pm Today
MICH
SMU
 
12:00pm Today
CIN
VCU
 
1:00pm Today
BSU
ABCHRIST
 
1:00pm Today
PROV
UMASS
 
1:00pm Today
AMER
MNTER
 
1:00pm Today
UNC
OSU
 
1:00pm Today
IUPUI
SALA
 
1:00pm Today
VILL
SYR
 
1:00pm Today
VT
CITA
 
1:00pm Today
DUQ
MLOWELL
 
1:30pm Today
FAIR
BEL
 
2:00pm Today
YALE
GTDNS
 
2:00pm Today
FD
DEL
 
2:00pm Today
PSU
DREX
 
2:00pm Today
UNCG
ELON
 
2:00pm Today
ILL
MIZZ
 
2:00pm Today
CAMP
MONT
 
2:00pm Today
LONG
PSUBEAVER
 
2:00pm Today
HOU
SCST
 
2:00pm Today
FSU
SFLA
 
2:00pm Today
BING
BONA
 
2:00pm Today
RUTG
RFLSH
 
2:00pm Today
MCNST
TOL
 
2:00pm Today
JVU
TRUETT
 
2:00pm Today
GT
VANDY
 
2:05pm Today
INDST
EILL
 
2:30pm Today
BUT
IND
 
3:00pm Today
STEPH
ARTCH
 
3:00pm Today
OREG
DELST
 
3:00pm Today
Terriers
FATL
 
3:00pm Today
TXARL
HPYN
 
3:00pm Today
KU
LAF
 
3:00pm Today
ARKST
MARS
 
3:00pm Today
MEM
ORU
 
3:00pm Today
KNST
UMBC
 
3:00pm Today
NW
WMICH
 
3:05pm Today
MIZST
EMICH
 
3:05pm Today
CHIST
STJOE
 
3:30pm Today
KENT
UCLA
 
4:00pm Today
COC
DAVID
 
4:00pm Today
RIU
DET
 
4:00pm Today
UCR
HOUB
 
4:00pm Today
MURST
ILLST
 
4:00pm Today
NWST
LALAF
 
4:00pm Today
WAGN
MON
 
4:00pm Today
MVSU
NCCU
 
4:00pm Today
PITT
OU
 
4:00pm Today
TENNM
PBY
 
4:00pm Today
WYO
SOUTH
 
4:00pm Today
AFA
UCD
 
4:00pm Today
MSST
USCU
 
5:00pm Tonight
JMU
HIGH
 
5:00pm Tonight
TXST
HTILL
 
5:00pm Tonight
DRAK
ISU
 
5:00pm Tonight
SHU
UNH
 
5:00pm Tonight
SCU
NE
 
5:00pm Tonight
MSU
TXSOU
 
5:00pm Tonight
UF
WAKE
 
5:15pm Tonight
ND
PURD
 
5:30pm Tonight
SHSU
PVU
 
6:00pm Tonight
AUB
XAV
 
7:00pm Tonight
AKR
BLUFFTON
 
7:00pm Tonight
DAY
BU
 
7:00pm Tonight
UNCW
ECU
 
7:00pm Tonight
CLMB
HOF
 
7:00pm Tonight
GMAS
IONA
 
7:00pm Tonight
TOWS
LAS
 
7:00pm Tonight
MAN
MRGST
 
7:00pm Tonight
CCST
YALE
 
7:00pm Tonight
PEPP
RICH
 
7:00pm Tonight
MAR
STJOE
 
7:00pm Tonight
KYST
TEXAM
 
7:00pm Tonight
MAST
VALPO
 
7:05pm Tonight
UMKC
INCWORD
 
7:30pm Tonight
IDST
CALST
 
7:30pm Tonight
NIOWA
IOWA
 
7:30pm Tonight
SIUE
UWMIL
 
8:00pm Tonight
TEX
LBSU
 
8:00pm Tonight
TCU
TXSA
 
8:30pm Tonight
ARK
SEMIZ
 
9:00pm Tonight
NCOL
JVST
 
9:00pm Tonight
ARST
LEH
 
9:00pm Tonight
NMST
NMU
 
9:00pm Tonight
WASH
OKLA
 
9:00pm Tonight
GRCN
STED
 
9:00pm Tonight
WEBER
WLVRN
 
9:30pm Tonight
WVU
NCSU
 
10:00pm Tonight
SDST
BST
 
10:00pm Tonight
GONZ
CPSL
 
10:00pm Tonight
PAC
FRES
 
10:00pm Tonight
PORT
MNTST
 
10:00pm Tonight
CSNO
TAMCC
 
10:05pm Tonight
UTST
SDKST
 
11:00pm Tonight
BYU
STAN
 
11:30pm Tonight
UNLV
UTAH
 
Final
NJD 3
TAM 2
Final
OTT 6
ANA 2
Final
DET 1
NYI 2
Final
WIN 2
BOS 1
Final
CAL 1
DAL 2
4:00pm Today
LOS
ARI
 
7:00pm Tonight
CLB
CHI
 
7:00pm Tonight
BUF
COL
 
7:00pm Tonight
PIT
FLA
 
7:00pm Tonight
CAR
NYR
 
7:00pm Tonight
MON
OTT
 
7:00pm Tonight
TOR
PHI
 
7:00pm Tonight
NYI
TAM
 
7:00pm Tonight
NJD
WAS
 
8:00pm Tonight
MIN
NAS
 
10:00pm Tonight
VAN
CAL
 
10:30pm Tonight
SJS
STL
 
4:30pm Today
WAS
PHI
8:25pm Tonight
SFX
SDC