Gators getting special results from kicking game


Gators getting special results from kicking game

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) With arguably the best punter/place-kicker combination in the country, No. 3 Florida should be looking for a new adjective to describe its special teams.

How about supreme teams? Or superior teams? Either one would be appropriate.

The Gators have been downright dominant in the kicking game this season, putting the foot back in football and making anyone who watches coach Will Muschamp's team appreciate that often overlooked aspect of the game.

Those units could give Florida (7-0, 6-0 Southeastern Conference) a leg up in Saturday's game against rival Georgia (6-1, 4-1) in nearby Jacksonville.

``We're a very invested group in our special teams as far as our staff is concerned,'' Muschamp said. ``What you emphasize is what's important. We spend a lot of time on it - meetings, practice and emphasis from our staff.''

It shows.

Florida's special teams were instrumental in wins against Vanderbilt and South Carolina the last two weeks, helping the Gators overcome offensive issues that come with having the league's worst passing attack.

Against the Commodores, senior place-kicker Caleb Sturgis made all three of his attempts, Earl Okine blocked a field goal and Solomon Patton ran 54 yards on a fake punt to set up a touchdown that turned a close game into a double-digit lead.

Last week against the Gamecocks, sophomore punter Kyle Christy set a school record with a 54.3-yard average. The Gamecocks started 14 of 15 drives inside their 30-yard line and ended the game with an average starting point of the 22.

Christy leads the nation with a 47.9-yard punting average. Half of his 36 punts have been 50 yards or longer, and 13 have been inside the 20-yard line.

``He's been able to flip the field for us,'' linebacker Jon Bostic said. ``On defense, that helps us a lot when we can pin guys down inside the 20 and keep them down there.''

Sturgis has been equally effective.

Sturgis has made 12 of 14 field-goal attempts this season, including both from beyond 50 yards. A Groza Award finalist in 2011, Sturgis also has a strong enough leg to put every kickoff in the end zone. Twenty-one of his 43 kickoffs have results in touchbacks.

``He's very accurate and very dependable,'' Muschamp said. ``He never gets shook. He just lines up and does his job. ... In my two years as head coach, to have that opportunity to have a guy like him has just been a relief.''

Others haven't been nearly as fortunate.

Penn State missed four field goals and had an extra point blocked in a loss to Virginia last month. Tennessee has switched place-kickers twice this season after missing four extra points. And few in Alabama have forgotten those four missed field goals in a 9-6 loss to LSU last season that could have cost the Tide a chance at the national championship.

Florida, meanwhile, has been almost automatic whenever a special teams unit gets on the field.

``Their special teams have been just that - special,'' said Georgia coach Mark Richt, whose team allowed a 99-yard kickoff return against the Gators last season. ``It's amazing, really, what they've been doing. ... They're making it miserable for punt return teams to get something going. They've got a lot of speed on their return teams.''

Florida has allowed just 24 yards on 37 punts, which ranks 14th in the country, and is second in the SEC and 23rd nationally in kickoff coverage. Throw in return man Andre Debose, who owns a school record with four kickoff returns for touchdowns, and the Gators seemingly have few, if any, special teams holes.

The Bulldogs can't say the same.

Georgia has struggled with two freshmen kickers. Marshall Morgan has missed four extra points, while Collin Barber and the punt team have the worst net average in the SEC.

Instead of hiring a full-time special teams coach, Richt said this week he may take on more of the duties himself during the offseason.

``I would have to fire somebody to hire a special teams coordinator,'' he said. ``I don't know if I'm interested in doing that. One thing I can do is at least spend some time learning the kicking and punting fundamentals well enough to be their coach. Right now, at this minute, I don't have enough expertise to do that. But in the offseason, I think it would be wise for me to do that.''

Florida lured special teams coordinator D.J. Durkin away from Stanford in 2010 and kept him despite interest from Ohio State's Urban Meyer last year.

Durkin has been the catalyst behind Florida's special, err supreme, teams.

``We say at the beginning of the year: If you're not on special teams, you're a selfish player,'' quarterback Jeff Driskel said. ``We take great pride in our special teams. We work on it a lot. We have some good players on our special teams. We get down there and we cover well. And when we get chances, we make big plays.''

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Game 5 Capitals vs. Blue Jackets Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

Game 5 Capitals vs. Blue Jackets Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

Alex Ovechkin said the Caps would return to Washington with a tied series. The Caps captain is a man of his word as the Caps won both Game 3 and Game 4 to even up the series at two games apiece.

John Tortorella had no answers after seeing his Columbus Blue Jackets fall in Game 4, but he will have to figure things out quickly as the series shifts back to Washington for a pivotal Game 5.

The Caps return home with two straight wins and all the momentum. There's just one problem: No one seemingly can win at home.

What: Washington Capitals vs. Columbus Blue Jackets, Round 1, Game 5

Where: Capital One Arena, Washington, D.C.

When: 3:00 p.m. ET

How to Watch: Capitals-Blue Jackets, Game 5 will be broadcast on NBC.

Live Stream: You can watch Capitals-Blue Jackets, Game 5 on NBC Sports' live stream page.


The Capitals take on the Blue Jackets in Game 5 on Saturday, April 21 at 3:00 p.m. ET in Washington. The series is tied 2-2.


Capitals-Blue Jackets, Game 5 will be broadcast on NBC. Coverage kicks off on NBC Sports Washington with Capitals FaceOff at 2:00 p.m. followed by Caps GameTime at 2:30 p.m. Tune back to NBC Sports Washington after the game for Caps Extra and Caps Overtime at 6:00 p.m. for all your postgame coverage. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

2:00 p.m. — Caps FaceOff
2:30 p.m. — Caps GameTime
3:00 p.m. — Capitals vs. Blue Jackets on NBC
5:30 p.m. — Caps Extra
6:00 p.m. — Caps Overtime


Capitals-Blue Jackets Game 5 is available to stream live here through the NBC Sports live stream page.


Here are the Caps' projected lines:

Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Tom Wilson
Chandler Stephenson - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie
Brett Connolly- Lars Eller - Devante Smith-Pelly
Jakub Vrana -  Jay Beagle - Alex Chiasson

Michal Kempny - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik - Christian Djoos

Braden Holtby with Philipp Grubauer as backup.

Scratches: Travis Boyd, Andre Burakovsky (upper-body), Shane Gerisch, Madison Bowey, Jakub Jerabek


Use the comment section below to discuss the game action with other Capitals fans. 

For all the latest Caps coverage, follow Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir, Capitals correspondent JJ Regan and the NBC Sports Capitals account on Twitter. Be sure check out our Capitals page and NBC Sports Washington's Facebook page.



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Markieff Morris set tone for Wizards, who finally got back to 'Death Row mentality'

Markieff Morris set tone for Wizards, who finally got back to 'Death Row mentality'

Perhaps Toronto and their fans would disagree, but through two games the first round playoff series between the Wizards and Raptors had been relatively uneventful, maybe even boring to the casual observer. For those who have watched the Wizards in recent years, something just seemed off with them.

Not only were Bradley Beal and Otto Porter struggling to score, but the energy and grit we're used to from the Wizards in the postseason just wasn't there. Three minutes into Game 3 on Friday night, that all changed.

Wizards forward Markieff Morris got tangled with Raptors rookie OG Anunoby and fell to the ground. He rose up, shoved Anunoby and gave Serge Ibaka a push for good measure. It cost Morris a technical, but he wasn't ejected. From there, the tone was set.

This was to be a physical game and the Wizards were going to make sure of it. That's how they prefer to play and that nastiness had been missing thus far in this series.

"I think OG [Anunoby] did not know the scouting report because he did not know that Keef is one of the people you do not mess with in this world," forward Kelly Oubre, Jr. said. "He will learn.”

The fireworks didn't end there. Beal and Jonas Valanciunas got into it and so did John Wall and Anunoby, and then Wall and Ibaka.

The Wizards made a name for themselves in the 2016-17 season when they won 49 games and were one win away from the conference finals as a team that would instigate contact and talk trash. They prided themselves on being old school in that regard and were praised for it by former NBA tough guys like Paul Pierce and Stephen Jackson.

This season, they just haven't been able to do it as often.

"We have been there at spurts throughout the year, we just have not been there consistently," Oubre said. "Now it is do or die. We just need to bring that Death Row mentality.”

Oubre also joked that rapper Drake started it all by sitting courtside in Toronto and talking trash. Truthfully, their backs were against the wall and they had no choice but to punch back.

The Wizards entered Friday's game down 0-2 to the Raptors with Game 2 a dispirited blowout. If they went down 0-3, they would essentially have been dead in the water. No team has come back from that deficit in NBA history.

This time, they weren't going to go down without a fight.

"It sounds crazy, but sometimes we need that. The crazy part is that it's always [Morris]," center Marcin Gortat said. "If you see your teammate fighting, I'm going to fight with him. That's the bottom-line."

"We came out tonight with an edge about ourselves," Beal said. "Keef is a bully... we are physical team." 

As for Morris, the enforcer himself, he let his actions speak for themselves. He didn't take the bait on most questions, but did wear a 'Death Row D.C.' shirt during his media availability. Morris came up with that nickname last season to convey the toughness he wants the Wizards to play with.

"We need some physicality," Morris said. "I feel like when we were in Toronto, they were doing everything too freely. This kind of set the tone for the whole series... we need to keep our same mean mentality. If they wanna fight, we will fight."

The Wizards fought the Hawks and Celtics last year tooth-and-nail and often used physical play to their advantage. It worked in Game 3 against the Raptors. Now the Wizards will have to counter however Toronto chooses to respond.




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