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Gators Special Teams: Improvements Necessary

Causing Gator fans plenty of headaches, this Florida Special Teams group has a lot to work on. Starting out as rough as possible, the Gators had quite the subpar performance in week one. With an unacceptable penalty and some missed field goals, this was an absolute stinker. Having two players wearing the same number showed that coaching was an issue. Switching kickers midseason proved to be quite successful, as the Gators found themselves a reliable asset. Going to Trey Smack was the best decision that this subpar unit has made. However, no complaints were had with the punter, Jeremy Crashaw. One of the best punters in the SEC, the kicker and punter were rarely to blame. The issues at hand came down to coaching adjustments and ill-advised penalties. Fans will be eager to see some improvements in this unit in week one against the Hurricanes.

Coaching Issues

With some frankly head-scratching penalties last season, many fans were quick to blame the coaching. Having two players wearing the same number on the field proved to be quite the costly penalty in the Gators opener. Having a player attempt to illegally leap over a protector on punt coverage also resulted in a crucial foul. Needless to say, fans were hoping for some changes and improvements during the Orange and Blue game. However, fans witnessed another blunder. The Gators special teams group only fielded 10 men on an extra-point attempt. The head of the Special Teams, known as the Game Changer Coordinator, is Chris Couch. Spending time with head coach Billy Napier while at Louisiana Lafayette, he was hired when Napier was put in charge in Gainesville. With some subpar results, many fans have been displeased with the results, with many calling for his job.

Despite many of the blunders, the Gators have actually fielded some productive groups. With a now-proven starting kicker and a top-class SEC punter, not all is bad. The main area of concern with this group has simply been the little things and the seeming lack of awareness. Multiple lapses in judgment reflect more on the coaching staff than on the players. There is no doubt that this season is pivotal for Billy Napier, as his seat is becoming warm. With an absolute gauntlet of a schedule, the Gators must be on their A game. Simply put, they cannot afford for the special teams unit to be making simple mistakes in pivotal moments. Chris Couch’s unit must be a strength for this team, not a weakness. Another season of struggles from the Gators’ special teams will surely result in Couch’s termination and possibly Napier’s as well.

Proven Kicker

Much to the confusion of many fans, Trey Smack was not the Gator’s starting kicker when the season kicked off. Sitting behind Adam Mihalek for the first couple of weeks, he eventually moved into the starting role. With Mihalek having some frustratingly bad field goal attempts, the Gators were forced to see what they had in Smack. Making his first-ever field goal attempt against Tennessee, he took the starting job and never relinquished it. Going 17 for 21 on FG attempts, and a perfect 29 for 29 on extra points, his season was productive. A reliable outlet, Smack came up big for the Gators on multiple occasions. Still not perfect, he did indeed miss a crucial field goal against the Arkansas Razorbacks. Using this Spring to refine his game, he was perfect during the Orange and Blue game. Look for Smack to be a bright spot in this unpredictable unit.

Depth an Issue?

Despite finding their kicker of the future, the depth behind Smack is a tad bit alarming. Smack did his thing during the Spring game, going perfect on extra points and field goal attempts. The backup, Hunter Smith, did not have quite the same outing. Going a dismal 0/3 on field goals, including two within 35 yards did not inspire much confidence. Although that was probably the worst that Smith has performed, it did set off some alarm bells. With no worries about the health of Smack, this shouldn’t be too concerning. However, all football fans know that this is a dangerous sport, and anyone could get hurt at any time. Already dealing with some kicking issues at the beginning of the last season, that is not something that Florida can afford. Smith needs to improve upon his accuracy in case he is ever needed.

Program Record Holder

Seemingly being a part of this Gators special teams group for ages, punter Crawshaw now enters his senior season. A bright spot throughout some down seasons, Crawshaw has been consistent in his punting duties. Named to the AP All-SEC 2nd team, he has proven to be one of the conference’s premier punters. Handling the starting punting job for the past three seasons, fans need not worry about his big game experience. After a productive career, he currently holds the program record for average yards per punt at 46.7 yards. Punting the ball 42 times last season, he even set the record for average yards per punt attempt in a single season at 48.9 yards. He is a proven weapon in the special teams department, with seven punts over 60 yards. Able to flip the field with his leg, he will need another big season to help the Gators return to a bowl game.

Photo Credit: Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports



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