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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Anthony Rendon reaches home run milestone

USA Today Sports

Anthony Rendon reaches home run milestone

For a guy whose nickname reflects how many doubles he hits, Anthony Rendon has quite the power as well.

Rendon, referred to as "Tony Two Bags" by the Washington Nationals' faithful, hit his 100th career home run on Thursday night. 

The home run came off New York Mets pitcher Jason Vargas, who has been magnificent in his two starts against the Nationals this season. Vargas had not allowed a run against the Nationals in 2018 until Rendon took him deep.

The home run was Rendon's 22nd of the season. This is the third consecutive year that Rendon has posted 20 or more home runs, and the fourth time in the 28-year-old's career that he has reached that milestone.


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The 2005 draft link that bonds the Redskins and Packers ahead of Week 3


The 2005 draft link that bonds the Redskins and Packers ahead of Week 3

Looking back at NFL Drafts can be a frustrating task for Redskins fans. Missed opportunities and botched picks litter the record books, though the organization has made plenty of good picks, too. 

This weekend marks an interesting intersection of past drafts and current reality when Aaron Rodgers and the Packers come to visit the Redskins and Alex Smith.

Way back, in the 2005 NFL Draft, the 49ers selected Smith with the No. 1 overall pick. He was a major prospect and the consensus top pick in the draft coming out of an outrageous year playing under Urban Meyer at the University of Utah. 

Later that same draft, all the way down to the 24th pick, Green Bay took Aaron Rodgers out of the University of California Berkeley. At the time, the selection turned heads, as the Packers had future Hall of Famer Brett Favre at QB. 

The Rodgers pick turned out to be pretty smart, to say the least. Smith’s tenure in San Francisco had high points, but nothing that lived up to his lofty draft position. 

Rodgers and Smith have talked about being from the same draft class, and the two have developed a friendship off the field. 

“You know, he's a decent player,” Smith joked about Rodgers on Wednesday. 

“He and I [have] been around each other a lot of time now, always linked, pretty good buddies. Certainly, kind of I think follow each other's career from afar.”

Fair or not, Smith and Rodgers have been linked ever since that 2005 draft. Those weren’t the only two QBs taken that year though. 

The Redskins selected Jason Campbell out of Auburn with the 25th pick. If Rodgers had slipped just one more spot, maybe the Redskins take Rodgers instead.

Just to make one more connection, albeit an odd one, but Rodgers wasn’t even the only guy with that last name taken in 2005.

The Redskins selected cornerback Carlos Rogers with the ninth overall pick. Imagine if they took the QB with the slightly different last name.