The Daily Nole

FSU Football: A Disturbing Special Teams Trend

Todd Kirkland/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Florida State football may have never had a special teams collapse like it did against Alabama on Saturday.

That’s pretty amazing, when you think about it. After all, Florida State football has become synonymous with the term “Wide Right” in reference to the multiple game-ending misses by FSU placekickers in the 90s. How could any modern FSU team even come close to topping that?

By getting a field goal blocked, a punt blocked, fumbling a kickoff return, and averaging only 31.5 yards per punt attempt. In a single game.

That’ll do it.

Many fans are left calling for coordinator Jay Graham’s head after the debacle in Atlanta. For three quarters of the game, Florida State was really challenging Alabama. But then Florida State’s special teams effectively gift-wrapped the game for Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide, turning what looked to be a nail-biter into an easy victory for the nation’s No. 1 team.

Let’s establish one thing from the outset: firing Graham after one game would be a terrible idea. Not because of impact on special teams, but because he’s also the running backs coach and still a part of the staff that does a great job on the recruiting trail. The much more sensible action would be reassigning special teams duties to a different coach.

We tweeted out some of these numbers the night of the game, but here they are for posterity. Ever since Jay Graham took over special teams coaching duties in 2014, the FEI ranking for FSU has plummeted. FEI measures drive efficiency.

When we say it’s declined, we mean it’s taken an absolute nosedive. The Seminoles’ special teams unit went from 37th in 2014 to 59th in 2015 to an abysmal 123rd in 2016. Keep in mind that FEI tracks 128 teams. That means that Florida State was genuinely one of the worst teams in the country when it came to special teams — that’s not just hyperbole.

The poor numbers extend to individuals as well. Former punter Cason Beatty was maligned in 2014 for having a mediocre punting average of 41 yards per attempt (65th in the country). His 2015 was much improved at 45.2 yards per attempt (15th in the nation).

Well, what does it say that Logan Tyler has been even worse since he arrived at FSU? In 2016, he ranked 88th in the nation with just a 40.3 yard per punt average. After Saturday night’s game, he finds himself at a horrendous 31.5 yards per attempt. That is good for 96th in the nation.

The problem with that? There’s only been 97 eligible punters to have their numbers tracked. Tyler is quite literally second-to-last.

That alone wouldn’t be much of an indictment on Graham, because there’s only so much he can control. But it was well known coming in that Tyler was a talented punter/kicker, who was sought after by many high-profile programs. So how is it that he turned into one of the worst in the nation? At the very least, there’s some development issues there.

Some will point to field goal percentage decline as well. The problem may be present there, but it’s too early to tell for Ricky Aguayo. His 2016 season was not out of the ordinary for a true freshman kicker and compares favorably to other recent FSU kickers. However, that is not the only way to measure success in that area.

It’s not clear where FSU ranks when it comes to blocked kicks/punts over the past few years, but one would put some smart money that it places near the top.

Since the beginning of 2014, when Graham assumed his current role, Florida State has had six different kick attempts blocked and two special teams touchdowns surrendered. Four of the blocks were field goals (2015 Georgia Tech, 2016 Florida, 2016 Michigan, and 2017 Alabama).

Two of them were punts (2014 Florida, 2017 Alabama). The touchdowns were the aforementioned Georgia Tech game and the punt return by Louisville in the 2016 contest. The 2014 block against Florida was technically not a block, because Beatty never got the kick away, but the result was the same.

At that point, assigning blame solely to the players seems misguided. Players could make the occasional mistake — we all know that. When it occurs multiple times every season, the problem is rooted deeper than mental errors.

When will a change be made? Will a change be made? Coaches are obviously not fans of making staff changes in the middle of the season. That being said, the position in question isn’t a major one, so it is feasible that if there’s not much improvement, we could see someone else taking control.

Florida State was painfully reminded this past weekend about how there are really three phases to a football game: offense, defense, and special teams. The last one is what ultimately ruined the Seminoles’ chances at notching a marquee early-season victory.

The special teams performance on Saturday won’t sit well with fans, players, or coaches alike. When it comes to FSU’s special teams against Alabama, there was certainly nothing special about it.

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