Countdown to the Fiesta Bowl: Grading Oregon’s, Kansas State’s special teams

Oregon placekicker Alejandro Maldnado sends the ball to Colorado to kick off the second half of Oregon's 45 to 2 win over Colorado Saturday, Oct. 22. (Michael Ciaglo/Oregon Daily Emerald)

Oregon placekicker Alejandro Maldnado sends the ball to Colorado to kick off the second half of Oregon's 45 to 2 win over Colorado Saturday, Oct. 22. (Michael Ciaglo/Oregon Daily Emerald)

Posted by Isaac Rosenthal on Friday, Dec. 28 at 2:40 pm.

In the days leading up to the 2012 Fiesta Bowl, the Emerald will take a position-by-position look at Oregon and Kansas State, determining which team has the edge going into the BCS showdown on Jan. 3.

Oregon- Special teams have been a touchy subject for Duck fans of late.  Missed kicks  have been — in a drastically oversimplified if not downright wrong interpretation — blamed for the Ducks last two losses, including the Ducks’ loss to Stanford, which featured missed field goals in regulation and in overtime. But while Alejandro Maldonado has made just one of the four field goals he’s attempted this year, he’s been perfect on extra points.

And while Jackson Rice may not be the most utilized punter in the nation thanks to Chip Kelly’s tendency to go for it on fourth down, he’s averaged about 40 yards per kick on 48 punts and has played an integral role in the Ducks’ swinging gate formation when they do go for two, a tactic which has been successful three out of five times on the season.

The forgotten story of the Ducks’ special teams unit in 2012 was Oregon’s opponents early-season decision to pooch kick on kickoffs and direct punts out of bounds instead of letting De’Anthony Thomas have a chance of returning kicks, though this tactic didn’t always work as Tennessee Tech punter Chad Zinchini told the Emerald’s Matt Walks.

Even with most punters choosing to kick away from Thomas, he still provided one of the highlights of the season returning a punt for a touchdown in the Colorado game.

Kansas State- The Wildcats have been in more field goal situations than the Ducks, and kicker Anthony Cantele has made the decision to go for three points, an easy one making 18 of 21 field goals on the season, including four out of five from between 40 and 50 yards.

Punter Ryan Doerr has been called upon even less frequently than Rice with just 36 punts on the season and has a slightly better average of 41.1 yards per punt.

Wide receiver Tyler Lockett has been strong on kick returns with an average of over 30 yards per return, including a highlight reel play of his own with a 100-yard kick return against Oklahoma State.

Advantage- Kansas State. If the game comes down to the kicking game, Kansas State’s unit will simply be more battle tested. Both teams have players that are capable of taking a kickoff or a punt return back to the house, and both offenses are so talented that starting field position is less relevant than it otherwise would be, but the Ducks’ special teams groups just don’t get as much game action as their counterparts.