When Colorado had a second quarter punt blocked against Washington last week, it was obvious to see how it happened.
Washington’s 6-foot-5, 340-pound nose tackle, Vita Vea, blew up CU’s Brett Tonz in the punt protection shield and reached out to get his hand on the Alex Kinney punt.
Vea made a great play, but it wasn’t the only reason the punt was blocked.
In watching about a dozen other punters from around the country this week, I noticed that most of them line up about 7 yards behind their protection shield. Some were 8 yards back and sometimes they were 6 yards back.
On the play in which he was blocked, Kinney lined up just 5 yards behind his shield. That created a situation where there’s only about a foot or two between his release point and the backs of his linemen. Most punters have another 3-5 feet of separation at their release point.
Throughout the year, Kinney has lined up anywhere between 5 and 7 yards behind the shield, but of the dozen or so punters I watched this week, he was the only one that ever lined up closer than 6 yards.
“We vary it, depending on the situation, and we’ll do different things with the shield, too,” said CU assistant coach Ross Els, who coordinates special teams. “Sometimes we will have him up, sometimes we’ll have him back, sometimes we’ll just shield a little bit. It just depends on what we’re trying to get accomplished.”
Els didn’t view Kinney’s alignment as much of an issue, but said, “In that play (against Washington), it was.”
Although the play was a back-breaker in that game, Els didn’t seem too concerned going forward.
“We learned from it and time to get on to UCLA,” he said.
Today, as the Buffs (3-1, 0-1 Pac-12) visit UCLA (2-2, 0-1), it will be interesting to see how the Buffs do in punt protection and how Kinney performs against the Bruins.
That block was really the first blemish this season on CU’s special teams, which has shown a lot of improvement from previous years.
Els said he’s pleased there haven’t been many bad plays from the special teams, but said, “We haven’t done anything really, really positive either. We’re not anywhere close to where we need to be yet.”
For the Buffs to truly be good on special teams, they have to make big plays, Els said. They need to create blocks, score touchdowns or just simply do more to make an impact.
“With the talent level that we have, we as coaches have to make sure we’re at a whole other level on special teams,” Els said.
Good start for Stefanou
Speaking of special teams, kicker James Stefanou, a 30-year-old true freshman from Australia, is doing very well in his first year of American football.
Stefanou is 7-for-8 on field goals and has made each of his last six.
“It’s a pleasure working with him,” Els said. “He’s handling the pressure well.”
Stefanou hit a season-long 49-yard field goal against Washington. Els said it was the first time Stefanou had ever kicked in the rain, but Stefanou managed to get that field goal just over the cross bar.
“To be able to get his plant foot down and hit that long field goal was really good,” Els said.
Els said he’s not really sure how long of a field goal Stefanou could hit in a game. A lot of long field goals are lower line drives, whereas Stefanou’s strength is getting the ball up quickly – which is crucial to avoid blocks.
“That one (against Washington) was his longest,” Els said. “Could he go further? Maybe under the right conditions.”
CU should have more chances to hit longer passes today against UCLA than it did against Washington. The Huskies completely took away CU’s deep passing game last week.
Of the 27 passes thrown by Montez last week, only three of them traveled more than 8 yards down field (not counting a throwaway). Montez hit Bryce Bobo 13 yards down field on a slant route in the third quarter (that play went for 16 yards). Montez’s two other long passes resulted in an overthrow of wide open Devin Ross and an interception in the end zone on an overthrow of Shay Fields.
Against Washington, 10 of Montez’s passes were thrown behind the line of scrimmage.
So far this year, Montez is 7-for-19 on passes 20 yards or more down field, with two touchdowns and three interceptions. UCLA has given up 12 passes of 20 yards or more (tied for 70th nationally)
The Bruins have not given up a 50-yard pass this year, however, and CU hasn’t completed one that deep.
A few Buffs could hit some personal milestones today against UCLA. Here’s a look at some of the main milestones in reach:
RB Phillip Lindsay:
- Needs 12 rushing yards to pass Chris Brown for 6th on CU’s all-time rushing list.
- Needs 63 yards from scrimmage to pass Rashaan Salaam and Bobby Purify for 3rd in CU’s all-time list.
- Needs 4 catches to reach 100 for his career and become the 17th Buff to reach that mark.
QB Steven Montez:
- Needs 62 passing yards to pass Jeff Knapple for 20th on CU’s all-time passing list.
- Needs 287 passing yards to break into the top 15 on CU’s all-time list.
WR Shay Fields
- Needs 1 receiving touchdown to get to 20 for his career. Only five have ever reached that mark. The CU record is 23 (Nelson Spruce).
Contact staff writer Brian Howell at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/BrianHowell33.