Our next to last report card looks at USC Gamecocks Special Teams play this season.
Discussion: Special teams is the omnibus term given to anything that isn't offense or defense. Unlike offense or defense where there is either success or there isn't, there can be varying degrees of success across all of the special teams. South Carolina's special teams ranged from very good to very bad depending on which part you are talking about. Below, we look at a few aspects of the Gamecocks special teams.
First, there is the place kicking. Spencer Lanning was the place kicker this year and did admirably well. You could usually count on him to make a kick at a critical juncture of a game. The field goal to answer Florida's opening kick off return springs to mind as one of the more important field goals of the season. In fact, Lanning seemed so consistent, that his 16 of 23 mark seems a little lower than expected. On extra points, he was usually good, but did miss three, which is confusing.
Lanning also handled the punting duties. He was 21st in the country and 4th in the conference with a 44.15 yard punting average, and the punt coverage was also pretty good. The Gamecocks finished 33rd in the nation and 5th in the conference in net punt yardage, so the kicks were being covered reasonably well. Neither of these areas was much of a cause for concern.
What was an area of concern was the return game, both he punt return and kickoff return. The punt returns were especially terrible. The Gamecocks finished tied for 111th in the country and 11th in the conference with an average punt return of 3.65 yards. They even tried to shake things up by switching punt returners have way through the season. That didn't have much effect.
Kick returns were equally ineffective. South Carolina finished 90th in the country and 11th in conference with an average of 20.48 yards per kick return. A change in return man didn't help there either. To make matters more frustrating the Gamecocks haven't returned a punt or a kickoff in a very long time, perhaps the longest in the nation.
Kick coverage, on the other hand, was an area of improvement. Last season coverage was notoriously bad yielding a couple of touchdowns and plenty of long returns. This season there was improvement there but nothing fantastic.
Grade: B- There are areas that deserve better, namely the punting and field goal kicking, but there are areas that deserve much, much worse. Like we mentioned earlier, this is actually an aggregation of several separate areas.
Glancing Ahead: Next year special teams will be an area of concern. With Spencer Lanning's graduations we will have to find someone to replace not only the kicker but the punter as well. Returns will have to improve, but there is nothing obvious that suggests that will happen until better blocking occurs and a understanding from the returner not to run directly at the opposing defense. Love ya Sherman, Gilmore and Culliver but it is time for new blood in the return game in 2011. Let's all hope for improvement in the unit as a whole in 2011 as the talent on the team should produce better results going forward as long as a punter and kicker emerges.