Its no secret that kicking and punting are not the most glamorous parts of the game of football. Most kickers are only noticed when they mess up and a punt doesn’t usually signal keep your eyes glued to the TV as much as it says “I should go get another drink before the real football starts again.”
Well, the kicking aspect of the game is an important one even if it isn’t the most exciting. Returning those kicks is obviously crucial, but the players on the other end matter quite a bit as well. As we examined the other day, the Cincinnati Bearcats did not go a great job in the field position area in 2016. But how did they do in other parts of special teams?
On the punting side of things, there was some good, but mostly bad. The Bearcats ranked last in the conference in average yards per punt (38.74), which was even more painful considering they punted pretty frequently (5.8 per game). Sam Geraci handled the punting duties, providing those services for the third-straight season. On one hand, he took a major step backward after averaging 46.3 yards per punt in 2015. But on the other side, he tied for the fifth-most punts inside the 20-yard line (31), so he was still valuable. Unfortunately Geraci is no longer with the team, having decided to move on.
Ryan Jones and James Smith are the next in line. Jones is a sophomore who handled kickoff duties for the Bearcats in 2016 after redshirting in 2015. Jones has not yet punted in a real game and Smith is just a freshman, so there will be an entirely new face lining up after failed third down attempts. Jones is likely going to fill that role.
As for Jones’ work on kickoffs, he didn’t always exhibit the strongest leg, as he averaged 59.5 yards per kick while recording a touch back on only 26.4 percent of his attempts. Now, UC also ranked third to last in the American Athletic Conference in kickoffs (53) since it didn’t score a ton, but that touch back percentage and average were still near the bottom of the conference.
Now to the more exciting part of the kicking game: field goals. OK, so its not the same thing as a well executed touchdown pass, but its as thrilling as the kicking game gets. Andrew Gantz is back to reclaim is role as the primary placekicker. He made 2-of-2 field goals and 6-of-6 extra point attempts in 2016 before a hip injury stole his season from him. It was a tough thing to endure for Gantz and the team as a whole, as he was coming off back-to-back all-AAC second-team honors. Josh Pasley stood in for Gantz and was serviceable but not as effective as the player he replaced. He made 17-of-20 extra point attempts and just 11-of-17 field goals. Pasley is back to serve as an understudy again this year, but Gantz will be the one trying to build on his excellent freshman and sophomore seasons, when he combined for 212 points, reaching at least 100 in both campaigns.