University of Colorado punter Alex Kinney has been in this position before.
It was an inauspicious debut for Kinney last season as a true freshman, when a block on his first collegiate attempt at Hawaii proved to be one of the biggest blows in a loss that deflated the Buffs' preseason optimism.
Through the first two games this season, both CU routs, the Buffs' special teams performed competently in low-pressure situations. That changed last week at No. 4 Michigan, when a nightmare day for Kinney and the entire punt team severely hindered the Buffs' upset bid.
Kinney had two punts blocked at Michigan — one of them smacking the back numbers of one of his backfield protectors, Shane Callahan — and had another returned for a touchdown by the Wolverines' Jabrill Peppers. For the Buffs and their fans, the good news is Kinney bounced back from his unfortunate debut last year to turn in a solid rookie season.
By focusing on his own portion of the punt team's execution, Kinney hopes to do the same Saturday as the Buffs open Pac-12 Conference play at Oregon (3:30 MDT, Pac-12 Networks).
"I just worry about what I can control, and that's getting the ball off," Kinney said. "I'm not the punt coach. I'm just the punter."
Indeed Kinney is not the punt coach, and depending on the perspective either no one is or everyone is on the CU coaching staff. After last year's shortcomings, special teams coach Toby Neinas was dismissed, with head coach Mike MacIntyre opting to go with a committee approach to CU's special teams this season.
While Jay MacIntyre and Tony Julmisse have shown flashes of explosiveness on punt and kickoff returns, respectively, the punt team's recent disaster appeared all too familiar. Coach MacIntyre continues to express faith in CU's punt formation, which features gaping splits up the middle and a shield of three blockers stationed ahead of the punter.
MacIntyre believes the formation aids in quicker downfield coverage, and cited the similar rugby-style approach used by Utah and its former punter, two-time Ray Guy Award winner Tom Hackett, as evidence of its effectiveness. However, CU's three backfield protectors also are tasked with handling rushers who build unimpeded momentum for more than five yards.
While the punt on Kinney's "own block" certainly should have been booted higher, it didn't help that at the point of the ball's impact Callahan was flying backwards from one such rusher and was three yards deeper than where he started.
"We look at each unit as a committee and we had no problems in the first two games at all," coach MacIntyre said. "A lot of teams do the exact same scheme. (Hackett) won the Ray Guy Award the last two years and that's all they do. That's all they do is rugby punt. It's all about executing it.
"I wouldn't like to rugby-punt as much as we did in the (Michigan) game, though. We've corrected it, worked on it, and I think we'll be much-improved the rest of the way out."
MacIntyre has maintained the committee approach to special teams is a prevalent trend in Division I football, but a quick perusal of the Buffs' rivals in the Pac-12, as well as the nation's top 25, says that is not necessarily the case.
Among this week's top 25, only Baylor does not have a dedicated special teams coach or coordinator. Same with the league, as Oregon State is the only other staff besides CU without a designated special teams coach. While many of those special teams coaches also coach another position group, Washington State and Stanford have special teams coordinators whose sole job is to oversee those units. Utah also had one during Hackett's two-year run to the Ray Guy Award, though the Utes have split the job between two assistants this year.
Regardless of who exactly takes the point on curing the Buffs' punt-team woes, improving on the meltdown at Michigan will be essential to CU's hopes of making noise in the Pac-12.
"The philosophy (of the punt formation) is you can get your guys out front quicker and get them down there faster," MacIntyre said. "You have the shield back there to protect on it, and that's what we've done. Most of the teams we play do it too. We didn't execute it well enough a couple times for sure. We had to had to (shore) that up and I think we have."