Autozone Liberty Bowl Week | The Special Teams Battle

Tony Miliano and Pat O'Donnell give the Bearcats a sizeable edge in the kicking game against Vanderbilt in the 53rd Autozone Liberty Bowl (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

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One the themes that I have harped on in previewing the 53rd Liberty Bowl is that like all Bowl Games, the marginal aspects of the game will come to bear during the course of this game. The most marginal aspect of every game is the special teams, not because the kicking game doesn't matter. Instead because they rarely get the attention that they deserve in the coverage of the sport. But the Bearcats have won games with special teams and have gotten huge momentum turning plays all season long from the special teams.

For what it's worth Vanderbilt has a pretty sold special teams unit themselves. The question is, which team will get that big momentum swinging play on Saturday from the kicking game. The whole purpose of this is to figure you which team is most likely to capitalize on their special teams opportunities.

Net Kickoffs Touchbacks Kickoff Returns Net Punting Punt Returns Punts <20 Field Goal Percent Blocks Touchdowns
Cincinnati 19.08 9 22.57 39.09 7.48 25 72.7 1 1
Vanderbilt 18.49 8 22.54 38.18 6.21 21 53.8 1 1

For the most part the Bearcats and the Commordores are more or less equal on special teams, with one crucial exception. The Bearcats are far better at putting points on the board via the kicking game. That is obviously something that would be circled a few times in the game plan.

One other thing that I want to point out is that Pat O'Donnell is a huge weapon for the Bearcats special teams. Not only has he knocked more punts inside the 20 yard line but he has also done it far more frequently. Consider this 45 per cent of all his punts have been downed inside the 20. Compare that with 35 per cent of Vanderbilt's punts.

Neither team is particularly explosive in the return game. Though Andre Hal and Ralph Abernathy are capable of ripping off big returns. Hal has even taken one 96 yards for a score against Georgia, but neither return man is what you would call consistent. UC does have the option to deploy Isaiah Pead as a return man which shifts things in the Bearcats favor a bit.

I think the bottom line, at least for me is that the Bearcats have an advantage on special teams because the coverage units are excellent for a start. UC has plenty of ability to play the field position game. But most of all the Bearcats are better at putting points on the board. That is always important, doubly so in a low scoring affair, which I think this game will be.

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