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Cincinnati Bearcats Special Teams Officially In Crisis

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One of the defining characteristics of the Brian Kelly era wasn't just the outstanding offense. The special teams were consistently excellent and turned quite a few games. Bearcats won the Big East Special Teams Player Of The Year in each of Kelly's seasons. But that proud tradition is meaningless now, because the Bearcats special teams are terrible right now.

Tony Miliano's struggles is just the tip of the bearcats special teams problems
Tony Miliano's struggles is just the tip of the bearcats special teams problems
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The most obvious problem is the play of Tony Miliano. In August he was named to the Groza Award watch list, a short list of the best place kickers in the country. But this year Miliano has turned into an abject disaster. He is now 5 of 14 on the season on field goals, has had two kicks blocked with a long make of 44, which is a career low. What started as a minor consistency issue has blossomed into a full throated slump, and it is hard to figure how to stop it. It seems likely that Tony will keep the job for the next two games, but beyond that I have doubts.

I am expecting Andrew Gantz to take over place kicking duties from Miliano next year, and there has to be some popular opinion on the 8th floor of the Lindner Center as well. Its hard to envision a world in which this staff, who inherited Miliano will carry any faith at all in him into next season. Miliano could turn it around in the off season. Maybe he will clear his head, get refocused and win the job in the off season. But he has to prove it, and Miliano probably knows it.

As funny as this is going to sound, the Bearcats could survive Miliano's bad play if they could get something / anything from the return game. Honestly the coverage has been generally excellent and John Lloyd and Brendon Kay give the Bearcats competence in the punting game.

But UC can't get a thing going in the return game, and it is costing them game after game in the field position battle. It might just be time to retire the concept of Ralph David Abernathy IV being a difference maker in the return game. He hasn't returned a kickoff for a TD since the Liberty Bowl. His yards per return has gone down in each of the last two seasons and the Bearcats average field position is probably better if he takes a knee every time.

UC has shown that they can win on two phases alone in this winning streak, but they have been so bad in that phase of the game it seems miraculous that they keep grinding out these close wins. Special Teams play has already cost them one game this year against USF. For the rest of the year I don't even care about winning on special teams. I would settle for breaking even, but even that might be a bridge too far.

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