After the departure of one savior Riley Dixon, we thought special teams would be an issue. Though it ends up that Sterling Hofrichter was a capable replacement on the punting front, regressions in the kicking game hurt immensely last year. The Syracuse Orange ranked 86th in Bill Connelly’s S&P+ special teams rankings, largely due to kicking and kick return struggles.
Given Brisly Estime’s departure, more field goal misses and an ill-timed punt return fumble last week, one might expect that our numbers fell even more precipitously this season. And yet...
Obvious caveats here for sample size and all, but color me surprised when digesting most of Bill C.’s numbers above. Syracuse is 6-for-8 on field goals this year, and already missed a PAT. Only a small handful of teams have allowed a kick return of 60 or more yards this year, and of course, the Orange are one of them too.
There’s also the woeful punt return totals. SU has seven yards and a fumble on six returns.
As we’ve mentioned in this space many times before, it’s probably time to switch out Sean Riley from punt returns. Maybe for someone like Nykeim Johnson? Riley’s work on kicks has actually been pretty solid (much better than last year), and he should certainly stick around there.
It’s also worth highlighting just how goddamn good Hofrichter is, once again:
I’m not calling Bill’s numbers into question here -- except on punt returns -- but did want to show the fact that our perceptions of bad special teams play may not necessarily line up with what’s happened on the field. With a dedicated special teams coach in Justin Lustig, the hope was that we’d improve there. While it may not appear much better than last year, the numbers seem to tell us a different story.