Note: Matt Hogan was a kicker for UH from 2009-2012 and lives in Cougar lore for his 51-yard, game-winning kick vs. Tulsa in 2009. His Amazon password is stickitinyourpipe.
Matt will be a special teams analyst for GoCoogs all season.
Why do special teams deserve more focus?
Special teams should be an important factor for every football team looking to win games. It is 1/3 of the game! Every aspect of ST has a direct and indirect effect on your offense and defense.
It baffles me that programs at the college level still largely ignore it. There are hidden yardages and stats that don’t show up in the box score that can flip a game. That shouldn’t be overlooked.
My personal favorite, the field goal team, should be the quarterback and play caller’s best friend.
Having a reliable kicker from distance eases the play-caller’s mind. As the field shrinks in plus-territory, a good kicker can actually help open the playbook. And when you’re 3rd-and-long on the 35, a savvy QB knows he doesn’t need to force the issue. Throw a shallow crossing route or a screen, pick up some yards, and take the points.
Field goals aren’t sexy but knowing you can consistently score is an absolute weapon for a program.
Give us your thoughts on special teams in 2019
Experience and continuity are the keys to having strong special teams. UH is returning starters at all 6 key positions. Yes, 6! Kicker, punter, kick returner, punt returner, long snapper, and holder. You have to include the LS (Nick Wildberger) and the holder (Dane Roy) because they are intricate to their operation!
Specialists are positions that you can only prepare for with game reps. Anyone can punt in practice. Thankfully, UH has one of the most experienced groups of specialists in the country. I expect Dalton Witherspoon to build on his first season as the field goal kicker (7/9, 77%). I would like to see him extend his range out to 50 yards to give Dana and D’Eriq King more options.
Punter Dane Roy is a master at pinning opponents inside the 20 when given the opportunity. He is clinical when kicking the coffin corners. A coffin corner is what you call pinning an opposing team inside of the 10-yard line. He is also tremendous in kicking balls that are hard to field – increasing mistakes by the return team. If he can increase his average a couple of yards, he could be a Ray Guy finalist.
The long snapper, Nick Wildberger, returns at one of the most anonymous positions in football. But the LS is critical to the special teams’ operation. Nick is one of the best in the country at what he does. Shout out to Nick! Keep doing your thing for the brand!
Any thoughts about how Dana has handled special teams in the past?
Dana puts an emphasis on special teams because he is always looking for any edge he can get. In the past, he has split up all of the special teams’ duties amongst his coaching staff so that each can hone in on their assignment to put together the best game plan This year, he’s switched it up and has a dedicated coach in Blake Gideon. Matt’s brother Luke kicked under Dana the last two seasons at WVU.
Will we return more punts under Dana?
We have an electric talent returning punts in Bryson Smith and Dana always wants to put the ball in player-makers hands. Whether it be on offense or special teams, any time you have someone with the ability to make defenders miss and take the ball 70+ yards for a touchdown, you seize the opportunity.
Couple that with one of the leading returners in NCAA History on the staff, my teammate Tyron Carrier, and Houston is primed to significantly increase their returns this year. I expect to see a few “house calls” made this year.
Do you think special teams were largely ignored under Major?
Special teams received very little attention or love under Major Applewhite. It was apparent in the return game when we had a total of 17 punt returns last year for an average of less than 1.5 per game. Unless we were facing all world punters, that average should be a lot higher.
What about fakes? Fans love a good fake.
As for fakes, I don’t foresee too many being called this year. Every team has 1-2 fakes up their sleeve that they practice every week. But unless the alignment of the other team matches up perfectly for your call, then you won’t run it.
I played for Tony Levine, a special teams guru, who would draw up fakes in his sleep. I can tell you that I had several run, pass, and catch fakes and I hoped every Saturday it would be called.
The closest I ever came to faking was that onside kick against Tulsa.
If we see a fake this year, I believe we will see it in one of the early games so that teams will have to prepare for it all year. If a second one is run later in the season, it will most likely be a variation of the same fake with another wrinkle or two but out the same formation.