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College Football
Ivan Maisel
September 14, 1998
Not So Special Early-season kickoff and punt teams aren't all that they should be
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September 14, 1998

College Football

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TOP 10

Performances by quarterbacks who made their first career starts.

NAME, CLASS, SCHOOL

COMING OUT PARTY

Steve Birnbaum
Jr., Washington State

Threw for 201 yards and a touchdown as the successor to Ryan Leaf in a 20-13 victory over Illinois

Quincy Carter
Fr., Georgia

Completed 12 of 16 passes for 235yards in a 56-3 victory over Kent State

Eric Crouch
Fr., Nebraska

Rushed for 69 yards and two touchdowns, and threw for 127 yards and a score in a 38-7 rout of Alabama-Birmingham

Jarious Jackson
Sr., Notre Dame

Sparked a 36-20 comeback win over Michigan with a pair of TD passes and gained 62 yards on the ground

Tee Martin
Jr., Tennessee

Threw for two touchdowns, ran for another and accounted for 223 yards rushing and passing in the Volunteers' 34-33 defeat of Syracuse

Romaro Miller
Soph., Ole Miss

Completed 26 of 40 passes for 332 yards and two TDs in a 30-10 romp over Memphis

Mike Moschetti,
Jr., Colorado

Threw for 257yards and three touchdowns in a 42-14 win against Colorado State

Brock Nutter,
Fr., Troy State

As the first freshman since 1972 to start at the position for the Trojans, he threw for 203 yards and two touchdowns in a 26-0 defeat of Alabama State

Andre Vige,
Fr., Northeast Louisiana

Passed for 322 yards, including touchdown strikes of 90 and 76 yards, in a 44-10 rout of Nicholls State

Chris Weinke,
Soph., Florida State

Completed 21 of 36 passes for 207yards and a touchdown in a 23-14 defeat of Texas A&M

Not So Special
Early-season kickoff and punt teams aren't all that they should be

Nothing scares a college football coach more than the first kickoff of the season, unless it's the first punt. A dirty secret of college football is that many coaches, fearing injury to their players, don't practice their special teams at full speed. That's why so many big plays in the kicking game decide openers. Some teams aren't ready.

•Iowa's Kahlil Hill returned a punt 62 yards for a touchdown and a kickoff 88 yards for a TD in the Hawkeyes' 38-0 shutout of Central Michigan.

•In a 42-0 rout, Air Force scored twice against Wake Forest's special teams, falling on a fumbled punt in the end zone and returning a blocked punt 17 yards.

•USC and Arizona each returned the first kickoffs they received this season for touchdowns, against Purdue and Hawaii, respectively.

•Notre Dame took control of its game against Michigan in the third quarter by forcing a fumble on a kickoff return and blocking a field goal. Each play set up an Irish touchdown.

Special teams have amassed 16 touchdowns in openers this season—15 on returns (of six blocked kicks, five kickoffs and four punts) and a fumble recovery in the end zone. Nine touchdowns were scored on kickoff and punt returns in last year's season openers. During the final three weeks of November last year, by contrast, teams returned only six kicks for TDs.

After Syracuse committed blocking penalties on its first three punt returns last Saturday, Orangeman defensive back David Byrd explained the lapses by saying, "Ain't nothing like game speed." The difference between your scout team and the opponent's first team is never as pronounced as in special teams situations. Even if coaches were inclined to use starters against starters when practicing kick returns, it would be difficult to do. Often the same players start on both kicking and receiving teams. But most coaches in the 85-scholarship era won't practice lack coverage with full contact because of the danger of injury. "You get people hurt, more than anything else," Florida State coach Bobby Bowden says. "There's a way to stop that. Get a Janikowski."

In Florida State's 23-14 defeat of Texas A&M two weeks ago, the Seminoles' Sebastian Janikowski put all six of his kickoffs into the end zone. That gives a kick-off coverage team a false sense of security. Two of Janikowski's kicks were run back, and on one of those occasions Texas A&M's Dante Hall returned the ball 49 yards. "Instead of just running downfield in your lane, as in practice, people are hitting you," Florida State junior tailback Jeff Chaney says. "In a game, people are moving all over the place."

Hawaii found that out the hard way. "You have some guys who haven't been in a live situation, but you ask them to go out there anyway," Rainbow Warriors special teams coach Doug Semones says. Arizona's Chris McAlister returned Hawaii's opening kick-off 100 yards for a touchdown in the Wildcats' 27-6 victory. "Our guys ran down and got blocked and didn't get off their blocks," Semones says.

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