By Megan Allen, USU Athletic Media Relations
After showing significant progress in 2011, Utah State’s special teams will be looking to make big plays and maximize field position during the upcoming season under special teams coordinator Bill Busch, who is entering his second year in charge of the Aggie specialists.
As Utah State’s special teams coordinator in 2011, Busch's punt unit ranked fourth in the WAC and 29th in the nation with a net average of 38.20 yards per punt. USU's kickoff return unit was also among the national leaders in 2011, ranking third in the WAC and 39th in the nation with an average of 22.80 yards per return.
As a team, Utah State's net punting average improved 49 spots from 2010, ranking No. 29 in 2011 with a net average of 38.20 yards per punt after ranking No. 78 in 2010 with a net average of 35.49 yards per punt.
Senior Tyler Bennett emerged as one of the top punters in the nation as he ranked third in the WAC and 16th in the country, averaging 43.83 yards per punt.
With two weeks until Utah State kicks off the 2012 season at home against Southern Utah on Aug. 30, Busch spent a few minutes talking about the upcoming season and what Aggie fans can expect from the USU special teams this fall.
Utah State has all of its specialists back from a year ago and even returns a couple of redshirts. Are there high expectations for the special teams groups this year?
“Absolutely. Having Nate (Needham) back as our long snapper is a huge plus for us in that area. Jaron Bentrude has been doing a nice job for us as our new holder, and he's clearly the number one guy at that spot. An area that we've had to improve on in the three years we've been here is field goal percentage. We're not as good as we need to be, but we have guys back there who are experienced and have done a great job this summer. In the spring, they started off somewhat slow and then really took off the last 10 practices. We're really excited about where they're going, but there's a lot of competition right now.”
Utah State’s net punting ranked among the top 30 in the nation a year. What are your expectations with the punting group this year?
“It starts with getting the ball back there. And again, having Nate (Needham) there is very important. Tyler (Bennett) continues to improve with his punts. He's done a nice job so far this summer. Jaron Bentrude has also done a nice job punting. I anticipate a lot of great things. It comes down to your cover unit too. We'll be able to turn the ball over. The big thing you want is just consistency and hang time.”
Are there any goals or percentages you're trying to meet as far as punting?
“Bottom line is all you care about is net. If you're in the high 39 to 40 net yards per punt you're good.”
How about punt returns and the specialists available here?
“You always want to get a first down with a punt return. There are times when it's a poor punt or some situation and the punt return is not there. Sometimes it's kind of like playing poker. You have to fold them up, get the ball and get out of the drill. Other times you get the right punt and the right setup and you're ready to go. We improved in our punt return average dramatically last year. The guys back there give us some juice and that's a positive thing.”
The NCAA changed the kickoff back to the 35-yard line this year, while touchbacks will now be spotted at the 25. Does that change your approach on kickoffs?
“It does because of the fact that it comes back to the 25 on a touchback. We're looking for the ball to get kicked nicely. We want hang time and goal lines. We want to get the ball up in the air and deep. We don't want to just give them a layup saying if we kick it out, it will just come to the 25. We want to pin them inside the 25 if we can.”
Last year's kick return unit ranked among the best nationally as well. What are your expectations for that group?
“I think it's going to be fantastic again. All three years we've been here we've been very good in kickoff returns. We're pretty simple-schemed and our kids buy into it. Kerwynn (Williams) has been a great returner for us and Chuck Jacobs came in last year and has done a great job in that area as well. The place we have to replace somebody is where Chris Harris was as the off-returner, and he wasn't good, he was great. Our biggest concern right now is replacing that spot on the field.”
Are there percentages or goals you have in mind for extra points and field goals?
“Don't get one blocked and make them all. It's pretty simple. We all know it's hard to make 65-yard field goals, but those are only going to come at the end of a half or game. Other than that we've got to make them all.”
Overall, what can Aggie fans expect from USU's special teams units in 2012?
“A lot of energy. Our guys have that; we don't have any issues there. We'll also have the ability to change the field. We've got to change the field position in any phase. How many times can we give our offense the ball on the opponent’s side of the 50 through a kickoff return, a punt return or pinning them? We have to create short fields.”
Doug Hoffman is the assistant athletic director for Utah State University Athletic Media Relations.