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What Is Up With USF Special Teams This Season? Part Two

The Bulls went three straight games without surrendering a blocked kick... and then Tulane blocked two more on Saturday.

NCAA Football: South Florida at Tulane Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

USF football suffered from some serious special teams woes early in the season when they had four kicks or punts blocked in the first three games, but special teams coach Justin Burke and his unit seemed to tidy it up after the Illinois game. Then came Tulane.

The Bulls had a PAT blocked and a field goal attempt blocked on Saturday, bringing the season total to six blocked kicks/punts in seven games. Last year under Strong, Texas had five blocked kicks in 12 games, with three coming in one game.

Now let’s look at the latest breakdown in special teams play.

PAT After Darius Tice TD in Second Quarter:

PAT presnap

Here we have a basic overload to the right side of the line with seven Tulane defenders, but the guys we have to worry about are the two edge rushers out wide.

Tight end Mitchell Wilcox is responsible for both of them. It’s a difficult task, which is why you typically see strong and athletic tight ends doing this job. He is supposed to take the man closest to the ball while making himself big enough to make the outside defender run “the hump,” as they call it, and take an extra step before getting to the kicker.

PAT snap

At the snap, you see one of the defenders on the right side not rush in case the Bulls run a fake. which reduces Tulane’s advantage on that side to six on five. So far, so good for USF.

PAT Wilcox

Wilcox does the exact opposite of what he is supposed to do. Instead of taking the closest man to the ball, he halfheartedly steps inside (as he is supposed to do) before darting outside to take the defender farther away from the ball. You can see the man Wilcox is supposed to block jump over the tight end’s outstretched leg (Wilcox’s attempt at a block?).

PAT Blocked

The Green Wave player circled is the inside player Wilcox is supposed to engage, yet here he is smack dab in the front of kicker Emilio Nadelman and holder Large Adult Punter.

Result: Blocked.

Fault: Wilcox

36-Yard Field Goal Attempt

With a little over four minutes left in the game, the Bulls lined up for a field goal to give them a 37-21 lead and make Tulane’s comeback bid a little harder. It had not been a good night for Nadelman, who had already badly missed a field goal on top of the blocked extra point.

I noticed something when I rewatched this play before recording our podcast on Monday. TULANE ONLY HAD TEN PLAYERS ON THE DAMN FIELD WHEN THEY BLOCKED THIS KICK. Jamie was kind enough to label each Tulane player presnap, so we will start here.

Someone on the field or on the USF sideline has to notice Tulane only has ten defenders on the field. This is pretty inexcusable.

“You don't ever see it 'til afterwards,” head coach Charlie Strong said during Tuesday’s press conference. “The field goal was the one they got blocked when they brought pressure. It was a technique problem there."

Technique problem is being kind.

FG attempt

Tulane comes in for the block, but with only ten players on the field that should help the Bulls, not hurt them.

Again, the pressure and ultimately the block comes from the right side. I’ve numbered the Tulane players that cause the problems. Basically everything Wilcox was supposed to do on the PAT attempt is exactly what he was supposed to do here. He failed to block the right guy (or any guy) and let number two and three run right by and over him on the way to Nadelman.

FG attempt 2

Here you can see Wilcox is in the process of being spun around and steamrolled by both defenders simultaneously.

FG blocked

Here is the end result: Wilcox is on his back while number three makes the diving block. And if he didn’t block it, number two had a clear shot at the ball as well.

Result: Blocked field goal and Tulane scored their final touchdown of the night to make it 34-28 on the ensuing drive.

Fault: Wilcox.

This is Wilcox’s third special teams miscue of the season.

I said this in the special teams piece earlier this year:

Special teams coach Justin Burke has to feel his seat getting a little steamy after four blocked kicks in three games. These are very correctable mistakes that Burke has to be able to make by either changing personnel or scheme, maybe both.

If it’s just a technique issue as Strong suggested, then these are correctable mistakes. But like the team overall, at some point you are who you are. And six blocked kicks/punts in seven games says you’re not a good special teams unit.