Nothing special about Florida Gators special teams

The Florida Gators weren’t clicking on very many cylinders Saturday night at home against the Texas A&M Aggies.
Aside from blatant issues on offense, there is a common denominator holding Florida back in nearly every game, and especially as of late. Special teams is not getting the job done, but that’s nothing new. It’s been that way for years now.
Since Urban Meyer and the Gators went their separate ways, special teams departed as well. The days of special teams being a priority and even coming up big to win games are over, and it doesn’t look like those days will be making a comeback anytime soon.
The Gators arguably have the best place kicker and the best punter in the country, but Eddy Pineiro and Johnny Townsend have both played parts in back-to-back losses.
Pineiro’s missed extra point kept Florida from tying the game against LSU last week, a kickoff out of bounds early in the fourth quarter led to an A&M scoring drive and Townsend simply couldn’t keep the ball out of the hands of the Aggies’ devastating punt returner, Christian Kirk, in key moments.
The Gators knew they had to angle punts away from the speedster coming into the game, but that plan fell apart in the fourth quarter.
After Florida could not execute on third-and-one in the final minutes, which could have practically sealed the game, Townsend punted it right to Kirk at the Texas A&M 18-yard line. He finally made the Gators pay, returning it for 43 yards and into Florida territory.
The defense held the Aggies to yet another field goal, but that was enough for them to take a 19-17 win back to Texas.
“Yeah, that’s what’s supposed to happen,” head coach Jim McElwain said on angling the kicks away from Kirk. “And it didn’t, and it came back and bit us.”
All special teams woes cannot be blamed on the two kickers, though. After all, those are the two players who have made up for many special teams issues over the last two years.
Tackling isn’t just a problem on defense, it’s been a glaring issue on special teams as well. Complete whiffs and poor angles by Florida’s gunners hurt on that play in particular.
“We alluded to it earlier, but the plan was to pin in on the boundary or kick it out of bounds on the punt and not let that guy return it,” McElwain said. “The plan didn’t work. We didn’t execute and we didn’t get the guy to the ground.”
More special teams issues stood out on a Texas A&M punt in the fourth quarter when Florida attempted to block it (and failed) and CJ McWilliams and Joseph Putu could not even keep up with their gunners to give Brandon Powell a chance at a return.
This was simply an instance of players not being prepared well enough to play their position.
Then, a freshman kick returner made a couple freshman mistakes when bringing the ball out of the end zone.
Adarius Lemons got his first chance to return kicks on Saturday, and impressed on one play where he made a poor decision to bring it out, but made up for it by carrying half of the Aggies’ players 10 more yards after contact to the 26-yard line. It looked pretty, but it was a lot of work for one extra yard.
Then, there were two returns in the second half where he only got to the 15 and 17-yard lines. It may not seem like much, but those yards are precious for a struggling offense and for a team trying to win the battle for field position.
He chose to come out of the end zone with the entire crowd yelling “No!” He’s a freshman, and he made a couple freshmen mistakes, but still showed some potential back there.
While special teams played a major role in Florida’s tough loss Saturday night, teammates did not want to put the blame on one area.
“I won’t put it on special teams, man,” said senior defensive back Duke Dawson. “It’s the whole team. It’s a team sport. So as a whole team, we’ve just gotta play better. We gotta be locked in. We gotta be more focused.”
It is not fair to blame the players for these mistakes at this point. At some point, that has to be places on coaching. Both units coached by Greg Nord have underachieved. Players are only as good as the coaches teaching them every single day.
Steve Spurrier famously quoted that his players shouldn’t take the blame for underperforming, but he should take the blame for putting those players in.
McElwain could learn a lesson from that rather than pointing the finger at his players the way he seemingly did following the game.

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Bailiegh Williams
Growing up the daughter of a baseball coach in a household that revolved around Gators sports, Bailiegh’s future working in sports was her destiny. She played four years of varsity softball at Suwannee High School and one year on softball scholarship at Gulf Coast State College. In her first year she discovered a love for journalism so she packed her bags and moved to Gainesville to finish her A.A. and begin interning for Gator Country. She is now on track to graduate from the University of Florida in 2019. In her free time, Bailiegh enjoys binge watching her favorite TV shows and spending time with her family and her two fur babies.