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State of the Position: FSU’s special teams

Welcome back to our Florida State postseason series reviewing the Seminoles’ tumultuous 2018 campaign, in which we’re working through each position group, taking a look back at what was as well as glancing forward to what the future may hold. Next on our list— a bit of a change, as we examine FSU’s special teams.

2018’s Personnel

After a lackluster 2017 showing that saw the unit arguably be the main factors in losing games, the special teams unit needed work. New FSU head coach Willie Taggart tapped Alonzo Hampton to lead a much-needed turnaround. Juniors Ricky Aguayo and Logan Tyler were expected to spearhead that effort. Hampton also had plenty of athletic skill talent to choose from as his kick and punt returners, from sophomore D.J. Matthews to true freshman Keyshawn Helton to junior Keith Gavin, and many more. FSU also had four long snappers to choose from, led by redshirt-senior Ken Burnham.

The Results

They weren’t good.

After the unit finished 2017 ranked 25th overall in FEI with an efficiency ranking in the 40s and 8th in S&P+, they fell to 42nd in FEI and 95th in S&P+ in 2018. Their FEI efficiency ranking fell to 84th. The unit often looked as if it had no idea what it was supposed to be doing, and in general was a complete disaster. That has left many fans wondering about Hampton’s future with the program.

Aguayo handled kicking duties for the third straight season, and 2018 was easily his worst campaign. He went 30/31 on extra points but just 11 of 17 on field goals. All 17 of his attempts occurred in just seven total games. However, he only had two perfect days, missing six field goals spread out over the other five games, including missing three of his first four attempts of the season. His paltry field goal percentage of 64.7 percent ranked 97th in the country among kickers with at least 10 attempts. However, FEI still ranks FSU’s field goal efficiency, which is a measure of field goal distance and national success rates, at 29th in the country. That may indicate some relative level of difficulty of the attempts. Aguayo went 2/2 on kicks 20-29 yards, 3/5 on kicks 30-39 yards, 4/8 on 40-49, and 2/2 on 50+ yards.

With FSU’s numerous issues on the offensive side of the ball, junior punter Logan Tyler got plenty of work. He attempted 82 total punts this season, second-most in the country behind only Central Michigan’s Jack Sheldon, who had 89. Tyler’s 43.2 yard average was good for third in the ACC and 36th in the country. It also exactly matches his average from last season. In addition, Tyler handled kick-off duties this season. Per FEI, FSU had a kick-off efficiency rating of 112th and a punt efficiency that ranked 104th in the country. Kick coverage clearly plays a huge role in those numbers. Overall, Tyler had a solid year for FSU.

On field goals, redshirt senior Ken Burnham handled snapping duties, while redshirt freshman Grant Glennon was the long snapper on punts. Neither appeared to have any significant issues.

One of the unit’s few bright spots was Matthews, who handled the punt return duties. Matthews returned all but one of FSU’s punts in 2018, 19 in total. He returned those for 257 yards, and scored one touchdown that came against rival Miami. His 13.5-yard average ranked 26th among all returners with at least five attempts, and 14th among returners with at least 10 attempts. Per FEI, FSU’s punt return efficiency ranked 67th, as punt blocking plays a significant role in that.

In all, eight players returned kicks for FSU in 2018, led by a trio of true freshmen. Running back Anthony Grant was the leading returner, with 11. Next with nine returns was receiver Keyshawn Helton, and then receiver Tre’Shaun Harrison had four. Running backs Khalan Laborn (RS FR) and Amir Rasul (JR) had three each. Finally, running backs Cam Akers (SO) and Johnathan Vickers (RS SR) along with linebacker Zaquandre White (RS FR) each had one. The highest averages belonged to Grant, Helton, and Laborn. Among all returners nationally with at least five attempts Grant’s average of 22.5 yards ranked 81st in the country. Collectively, Florida State’s kick return efficiency ranked 111th in the country, per FEI. Penalties were a major issue, as were decisions not to fair-catch more kickoffs, thus eliminating the possibility of a penalty in the first place and just taking the ball at the 25.

Returning players

Ricky Aguayo should return as the Seminoles’ kicker in 2019. Logan Tyler should also return as FSU’s punter in 2019. Both will be seniors. At returner, FSU still has young talent as D.J. Matthews should be the leading contender for punt return duty next season as a junior, while Grant and Helton will be sophomores.

Who’s Next?

There is no other kicker on the roster, or one committed for next season. Punter Tommy Martin will be a redshirt sophomore next season. FSU is loaded at young skill talent for return duties.

Overview

Florida State’s special teams unit was arguably one of the worst in the country. Coach Hampton did not split duties coaching any other position, and may not be long for the job. FSU has even more work to do if the unit is to improve enough to not be a liability in 2019.

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