Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Special teams suspect in win

September 10, 2001
Sophomore wide receiver Charles Rogers attempts to catch the ball as Central Michigan senior cornerback Rodrico Epps breaks up the pass during the first half of the game at Spartan Stadium on Saturday. —

As special teams hampered the MSU football team during Saturday’s season opener against Central Michigan, it was the one weak spot that carried over from last season - despite an entire summer of troubleshooting.

Central linebacker James King was the catalyst of the Spartans’ special teams debacle when he blocked senior punter Craig Jarrett in the first quarter.

But when he blocked three more punts in the second half, he took his performance to another level by tying the NCAA Division I-A individual and team record for most punts blocked in a game.

MSU head coach Bobby Williams said the problems with the punt team need to be rectified immediately.

“The blocks all came off of the edge. We have what we call right and left wings and on all four punts (King) slipped inside, two from each side,” Williams said. “It was really unfortunate that we had breakdowns in punting because it really took away from the overall performance of the defense.

“I thought there were some positives on offense and defense, but we definitely have to get this punt situation squared away.”

Central head coach Mike DeBord said the team’s punt-block strategy was a focal point all week in practice.

“I thought George Ricumstrict, our special teams coordinator, did a great job with the scheme against their punt,” DeBord said. “We’ve worked hard this week on our scheme that we were using and trying to get it so we could get James a seam and obviously it paid off.”

The breakdown in the punt team also affected the Spartan offense and defense. Two of the three Central touchdowns were returned punt blocks. Those two extra touchdowns prevented the Spartans from rotating second- and third-string players into the game.

Williams said he was hoping to work all his backup quarterbacks, but the slim point margin held him back.

“Unfortunately, we had plans of getting (redshirt freshman Damon) Dowdell in the game, but the punt breakdowns prevented us from doing that,” Williams said.

Along with the four blocked punts, Jarrett was only able to get off two punts. He blasted one 64 yards and sliced the other off the side of his foot for 31 yards.

The offensive line did not give Jarrett enough time to get the ball off, Williams said.

“Craig had no chance,” Williams said. “They were in the backfield by the time he had the football, so we have to look at our operation to see what the get-off time was.

“It’s a very fundamental problem.”

But not all of MSU’s special teams’ problems can be placed on the punt team. Sophomore wide receiver Charles Rogers bobbled and almost fumbled Central’s first two punts, before sophomore wide receiver Ziehl Kavanaght replaced him as punt returner.

Maybe it was nerves - the first punt Rogers dropped was the first play of his college career.

“I was a little nervous,” Rogers said. “I didn’t want to turn (the ball) over so I just fell on the ball. It’s something I gotta get used to.”

Senior quarterback Ryan Van Dyke said he is glad MSU got these mistakes out of the way early in the season.

“It was a first game kinda thing, and we gotta work that out and get rid of it,” Van Dyke said. “I’d rather have that happen now than later in the season and I think that’s the way everybody feels.”

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