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Special teams observations from FSU’s bounce-back win over South Florida

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Little room for complaint.

As I’m sure you know by now, Florida State bounced back from its 63-20 whooping at the hands of Louisville a week ago with a 55-35 victory at South Florida on Saturday, showing that things are not as bad as initially feared.

Much of the attention, rightfully so, will surely go to how the offense and defense performed just one week after being thoroughly dismantled in both aspects. However, it’s also worth examining how the special teams performed against the Bulls after a poor showing in Louisville.

After all, true freshman kicker Ricky Aguayo missed his first career field goal in that game against the Cards and, more concerningly, the Seminoles allowed a pair of lengthy punt returns against UL, one of which went 69 yards for a touchdown.

The promising thing is that although the young specialists were not called on often, they were up to the occasional tests in the victory over USF.

Aguayo converted on both of his field goal attempts and all seven of his extra points, setting a new NCAA record with Florida State having converted 267 straight extra points, dating all the way back to Dustin Hopkins’ time as the Seminoles’ kicker in 2012.

Aguayo’s second field goal in particular was an ugly ball that wobbled its way in from 35 yards out, never reaching the arc that a traditional field goal attempt does, but it counted for three points just the same, moving him to 11-12 on FGs as well as a perfect 19-19 on XPs through four games.

Logan Tyler, the Seminoles’ true freshman who handles punting and kickoffs, saw a dip in his punting average on Saturday as his three punts traveled an average of 34.7 yards with a long of 41 and one of the three landing inside the 20. However, it would seem that this was an intentional move to deliver punts with longer hang-times, reducing the opportunity for a long return like the two that burned FSU a week ago. If this was in fact the case, it was a great success. South Florida’s punt returner, D’Ernest Johnson, was only able to return one of Tyler’s three punts and recorded just eight yards. Although Tyler was not able to showcase his boot to the fullest of its ability on Saturday, the punting game proved to be much more efficient.

Kickoff coverage was more of the same for the ‘Noles as USF’s two kick returners combined to return four kicks a total of 62 yards, an average of 15.5 yards per return, with six of Tyler’s ten kicks going for touchbacks.

In Florida State’s return game, further promising strides were made. Punt returner Bobo Wilson was able to field and return four punts, consistently breaking into the second level of USF’s coverage. In all, Wilson’s four punt returns went for a total of 59 yards (average of 14.75 yards) with a long of 18 yards, making a massive difference in the field-position battle.

Speaking of the battle for field position, FSU kick returner Kermit Whitfield played a key role in consistently setting up the Seminoles with good field position after South Florida touchdowns. Whitfield averaged 32 yards over his four kick returns. However, the highlight of his game was undoubtedly his 53-yard return in the fourth quarter which he almost took all the way. It was not to be, though, as the kicker made the tackle on Whitfield, keeping alive a nearly three-year drought without a kickoff return touchdown for Florida State.

In all, there was a lot to like about Florida State’s ability to respond with such a resounding performance, especially on offense and special teams, after last week’s embarrassing loss. Still, there remains a lot of room for improvement and the schedule only gets more difficult from here, starting next week when FSU plays host to North Carolina.