When the No. 9 Washington football team takes the field in Pasadena, Calif. for the 15th Rose Bowl in program history, the Huskies will go against the best team they’ve faced all season in No. 6 Ohio State. In the fourth piece of The Daily’s preview series, we take a look at the UW's special teams. Check out the previous installments:
Football games often come down to the third phase of play, and as is par for the course with Ohio State, the Buckeyes have plenty of playmakers when it comes to the special teams units.
With an offense as prolific as OSU’s, the the team’s primary job for its specialists has been to convert extra points and kick the ball off to the other team, and sophomore Blake Haubeil has been up to the task for that. Taking on the starter’s role in Week 7 after Sean Nuernberger suffered an injury, Haubeil has been a perfect 33-of-33 on PATs.
Just over 20 percent of Haubeil’s kickoffs have gone into the end zone, but Ohio State’s coverage team has been one of the best units in the country all year long. On 31 kick returns, opponents are averaging just 15.23 yards per attempt, third-lowest in FBS.
On field goals, Haubeil has been completely serviceable, going 10-of-13 with a long of 47 yards. In the Big Ten championship game, he was 1-of-2, hitting from 42 yards out and having a 27-yarder blocked.
When the Buckeyes do have to punt it, they have a second-team all-conference option to turn to. World-famous bottle flipper Drue Chrisman, who also moonlights as OSU’s punter, is averaging 43.3 yards per punt this season. In 13 games, he’s allowed just 10 returns, at an average of 3.50 yards per pop, tied for eighth in the country.
Junior wide receiver K.J. Hill has taken over the punt return duties for Ohio State, averaging a shade under 5.5 yards per return. On kickoffs, it’s mainly been sophomore tailback Demario McCall, who has 10 returns in the past three games, though senior receiver Johnnie Dixon has also had his chances throughout the season.
OSU’s only special teams touchdown of the year came courtesy of true freshman cornerback Sevyn Banks, who returned a blocked punt to the house in OSU’s win over. No. 7 Michigan.
Washington’s special teams units have, for the most part, been below expectations this season, but if the Rose Bowl comes down to the wire, it could well be decided by a kick or a punt. Ohio State hasn’t been one to beat itself, so the UW will have to do its job in the third phase.
Reach Sports Editor Josh Kirshenbaum at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @J_Kirshenbaum