Virginia Will Continue To Put Attention On Special Teams

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Virginia won the ACC Coastal Division.
Brian Delaney helped bring consistency to the kicker spot for Virginia. ~ Photo courtesy Matt Riley/Virginia Athletics Media Relations

Over the last three years, the Virginia special teams unit has been marked by positives and negatives. As demonstrated by the extensive list of statistics below, there is much to focus on with special teams, so it is not shocking there would be highs and lows throughout a three-year time span.

Special teams can sometimes be a side of the ball that may not get much attention unless there is a big play, but the little things do add up over a game and a season. These units play an instrumental role in the game in a multitude of ways. For the most part, the group has affected games and seasons in a positive manner for the Cavaliers lately. This is in part due to a couple of the Hoos’ most dynamic players being a member of the special teams units (yes, a punter can be dynamic in how they flip the field).

3-year production – special teams

2017

  • Punting: 78 punts, 42.50 yards per punt, 29 punts inside the 20, 9 touchbacks, 3 blocked
  • Field Goals: 8-12 FGA (66.67%), 0-0 inside the 20, 5-5 from 20-29 yards, 3-3 from 30-39 yards, 0-4 from 40-49 yards, 0-0 from 50+ yards, longest kick 38 yards, 0 blocked
  • Kickoffs: 58 kickoffs, 62.2 yards per kick, 20 touchbacks, 2 out of bounds
  • Punt Returns: 22 returns, 4.45 yards per return, longest return 18 yards, 0 touchdowns
  • Kickoff Returns: 41 returns, 26.98 yards per return, longest return 98 yards, 2 touchdowns
  • Opponent Kicks: 2 punts blocked, 0 field goals blocked
  • Opponent Kickoff Returns: 35 returns, 24.46 yards per return, longest return 76 yards, 0 touchdowns
  • Opponent Punt Returns: 25 returns, 12.84 yards per return, longest return 75 yards, 2 touchdowns

2018

  • Punting: 52 punts, 40.96 yards per punt, 20 punts inside the 20, 6 touchbacks, 1 blocked
  • Field Goals: 15-22 FGA (68.18%), 0-0 inside the 20, 5-5 from 20-29 yards, 7-13 from 30-39 yards, 3-3 from 40-49 yards, 0-1 from 50+ yards, longest kick 46 yards, 0 blocked
  • Kickoffs: 73 kickoffs, 63.3 yards per kick, 47 touchbacks, 1 out of bounds
  • Punt Returns: 36 returns, 6.86 yards per return, longest return 43 yards, 0 touchdowns
  • Kickoff Returns: 32 returns, 25.44 yards per return, longest return 90 yards, 1 touchdown
  • Opponent Kicks: 1 punt blocked, 1 field goal blocked
  • Opponent Kickoff Returns: 24 returns, 24.96 yards per return, longest return 77 yards, 1 touchdown
  • Opponent Punt Returns: 14 returns, 3.21 yards per return, longest return 9 yards, 0 touchdowns

2019

  • Punting: 57 punts, 41.93 yards per punt, 24 punts inside the 20, 5 touchbacks, 0 blocked
  • Field Goals: 20-24 on FGA (83.33%), 0-0 inside the 20, 8-8 from 20-29 yards, 8-11 from 30-39 yards, 4-5 from 40-49 yards, 0-0 from 50+ yards, longest kick 49 yards, 0 blocked
  • Kickoffs: 86 kickoffs, 62.2 yards per kick, 58 touchbacks, 4 out of bounds
  • Punt Returns: 26 returns, 6.08 yards per return, longest return 22 yards, 0 touchdowns
  • Kickoff Returns: 42 returns, 28.67 yards per return, longest return 100 yards, 2 touchdowns
  • Opponent Kicks: 1 punt blocked, 0 field goals blocked
  • Opponent Kickoff Returns: 20 returns, 24.9 yards per return, longest return 52 yards, 0 touchdowns
  • Opponent Punt Returns: 10 returns, 12.9 yards per return, longest return 35 yards, 0 touchdowns

Leading producers

2017

  • Punting: Lester Coleman, 78 punts, 42.50 yards per punt, 29 punts inside the 20, 9 touchbacks, 3 blocked
  • Field Goals: A.J. Mejia, 8-12 FGA (66.67%), 0-0 inside the 20, 5-5 from 20-29 yards, 3-3 from 30-39 yards, 0-4 from 40-49 yards, 0-0 from 50+ yards, longest kick 38 yards, 0 blocked
  • Kickoffs: Brian Delaney, 56 kickoffs, 62.3 yards per kick, 20 touchbacks, 2 out of bounds
  • Punt Returns: Daniel Hamm, 22 returns, 4.45 yards per return, longest return 18 yards, 0 touchdowns
  • Kickoff Returns: Joe Reed, 29 returns, 29.69 yards per return, longest return 98 yards, 2 touchdowns

2018

  • Punting: Lester Coleman, 52 punts, 40.96 yards per punt, 20 punts inside the 20, 6 touchbacks, 1 blocked
  • Field Goals: Brian Delaney, 12-16 on FGA (75%), 0-0 in the 20, 3-3 from 20-29 yards, 6-9 from 30-39 yards, 3-3 from 40-49 yards, 0-1 from 50+ yards, longest kick 46 yards, 0 blocked
  • Kickoffs: Brian Delaney, 72 kickoffs, 63.4 yards per kick, 47 touchbacks, 1 out of bounds
  • Punt Returns: Tavares Kelly, 13 returns, 11 yards per return, longest return 43 yards
  • Kickoff Returns: Joe Reed, 26 returns, 27.19 yards per return, longest return 90 yards, 1 touchdown

2019

  • Punting: Nash Griffin, 57 punts, 41.93 yards per punt, 24 punts inside the 20, 5 touchbacks, 0 blocked
  • Field Goals: Brian Delaney, 20-24 on FGA (83.33%), 0-0 inside the 20, 8-8 from 20-29 yards, 8-11 from 30-39 yards, 4-5 from 40-49 yards, 0-0 from 50+ yards, longest kick 49 yards, 0 blocked
  • Kickoffs: Brian Delaney, 85 kickoffs, 62.2 yards per kick, 57 touchbacks, 4 out of bounds
  • Punt Returns: Billy Kemp, 23 returns, 5.96 yards per return, longest return 22 yards
  • Kickoff Returns: Joe Reed, 24 returns, 33.17 yards per return, longest return 100 yards, 2 touchdowns

Summary

Looking back at the 2017 season for special teams, it was one that brought Cavalier fans to their feet on multiple occasions and caused hair-pulling during other moments. The reason? The Hoos were elite at a couple spots, while struggling to find consistency at others.

Lester Coleman and Joe Reed carried this unit during this season and were game changers within their respective duties. Coleman finished the season fourth in punting average in the ACC and set a school record with six punts of 60 yards or more in one season. Reed’s two kick returns for touchdowns set the UVA single-season record and placed him fifth in the FBS that season in the category. One of those returns for six was one of the only highlights for Virginia in the disastrous Military Bowl.

Following what could be considered underwhelming production outside of those two players, the program went a different direction with its special teams coordinator the next year. The NCAA approved an additional coaching staff member for schools and Bronco Mendenhall decided to bring in a dedicated special teams coordinator instead of splitting those duties among multiple assistants.

Ricky Brumfield was hired to take over the role after spending 2016 and 2017 coaching the same group at UTSA. Brumfield’s impact in his first season was noticeable as his punt return defense ranked at the top of the ACC and seventh in the FBS, allowing only 3.21 yards per return. The Cavaliers were 117th in the FBS in the nation the year prior.

Under Brumfield, Reed continued his development and production that has him leaving the program with numerous records and honors. This past season, he led the nation with a 33.2-yard kick return average and was named on numerous All-American lists. Reed holds the school’s career kick return yardage record with 3,042 career yards and UVA’s record for kick return touchdowns with five. Additionally, he is the only player in FBS history with 2,700+ career kick return yards and a career kick return average of 28+ yards.

While the kicking game was a major concern for the Cavaliers after the 2017 season, Brian Delaney has solidified himself as the guy for Virginia in that spot. In 2018 and 2019, Delaney demonstrated consistency, a big leg, and a clutch gene that the Hoos have been missing at the position for a while. This past season, he set UVA single-season records for PAT’s with 50 and most points kicking with 110. Three of those 110 points will go down as some of the most notable and memorable points in Virginia football history as his 48-yard field goal with 1:28 left to play broke a 30-30 tie against Virginia Tech as the Hoos ended the streak.

2020 Virginia football look ahead

The Hoos are very fortunate that there should be no questions to be answered at the specialist spots for next season’s kicking game. Their 2019 starters will be back for the 2020 campaign in Delaney and Nash Griffin.

Although he was not mentioned in the summary above, Griffin played a critical role in the success of this unit this past season. He had rather large shoes to fill when the ever-consistent Coleman graduated. In his first season as the Virginia starting punter, Griffin was just as consistent as Coleman. There were also multiple games where Griffin’s ability to flip the field with booming punts were large momentum changers for the Cavaliers.

While replacements may not be needed at kicker and punter, it’s obviously different at kick returner. In the section above, it would have been possible to go on and on about everything Reed has accomplished during his four years as a Wahoo. He leaves Charlottesville as one of the most dynamic playmakers in school history. All of these records, honors, and words about Reed show how large his departure may affect the kickoff return game next season. It also does not help that one of his backups, Seneca Milledge, recently entered the transfer portal. No matter who the Hoos turn to in 2020, it will not be fair to the expect their production to mirror Reed’s or even be close to it.

Turning to the other return game, Virginia needs more productivity out of its punt returning unit next year. While it has been nice to have sure-handed guys back there and not fumbling, the Hoos have been missing a spark in the role. Finding a playmaker for this job could do wonders in changing the field position for the offense next season. This may be especially crucial with an inexperienced quarterback and offense.

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1 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Some of the guys who are transferring received considerable playing time last year. Does anyone know why these players are leaving?

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