NoleGameday

Florida State vs. Alabama: Special Teams Comparison

Logan Stanford/Icon Sportswire

We’re down to two days until kickoff between Florida State and Alabama in Atlanta. To me, it almost feels like the calm before the storm.

We’ve compared the offenses, the defenses, and now it’s time to compare positions that could wind up playing vital roles on Saturday, special teams. The Seminoles and Crimson Tide have certainly seen their share of mishaps with kickers.

In fact, both teams in recent years have had at least one disastrous mishap that ended up resulting in a loss. I’m sure you’re familiar with the Kick Six. The Crimson Tide were tied at 28 apiece with the Auburn Tigers in 2013. Alabama decided to attempt a 57-yard field goal to try and win the game in regulation with only one second remaining. The kick fell just short of the mark, instead going into the hands of Auburn’s Chris Davis, who then returned it 100 yards up the sideline for the victory. Auburn would go on to make it to the National Championship, where FSU finally ended their run behind a last-second Kelvin Benjamin touchdown.

The Seminoles would have troubles of their own in 2015 when they visited Atlanta to face Georgia Tech. Tied at 16, FSU decided to bring on Roberto Aguayo for a 56-yard field goal with only a few ticks remaining. At this point, Aguayo was one of the most accurate and reliable kickers in college football. When he stepped up for a field goal, you felt like it was almost automatic. The ball was snapped, Aguayo stepped up to kick it. It seemed he tried to go for a lower trajectory since it was such a long field goal, allowing the hand of a Georgia Tech defender to get on it. The ball bounced around the Georgia Tech 25-yard line before it was scooped up and returned by Lance Austin. Austin shook off a tackle attempt from Aguayo and walked into the endzone, giving the Yellow Jackets a huge upset victory.

Based on that recent history, it’s quite clear how quickly something can go wrong on a field goal. Two national title contenders dreams gone, just like that.

Kicker

FSU: Ricky Aguayo

`Bama: Andy Pappanastos, Joseph Bulovas

Advantage: FSU

Florida State returns rising sophomore Ricky Aguayo. Aguayo got off to a hot start in 2016, connecting on 6-6 field goals during the Seminoles comeback victory against Ole Miss. His six made field goals in a game were an FSU record. Aguayo finished the season 19-26, with three of his misses coming in the loss to North Carolina. Overall, he was inconsistent but showed off the potential to become a solid kicker. Aguayo finished the season by going 2-2 during the Orange Bowl win against Michigan and was named to the Freshman All-American team.

Aguayo has had an offseason to work on fixing the inconsistencies in his game. Head coach Jimbo Fisher has offered him praise for his performance during the `Noles fall camp. He should be primed for an improved sophomore season.

Alabama’s kicking situation is a lot shakier. Andy Pappanastos is a redshirt senior who transferred to Tuscaloosa from Ole Miss, he was a backup last season. Pappanastos finished 1-1 on field goals and 6-6 on extra points in reserve duty. He had a chance to earn the job outright in the spring but failed to do so after a poor performance in the A-Day game. Pappanastos went 0-2 in the exhibition, missing from 31 and 38 yards out. The Crimson Tide’s punter, JK Scott, was more impressive on field goal tries in the scrimmage. Scott went 3-4.

Joseph Bulovas is an incoming freshman who participated in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. However, looking deeper at his stats, you have to question if he’ll be ready for game one. Bulovas finished his high school career by making only 11-25 field goals and 68-76 extra points. It’s clear he has had some accuracy issues during his prep career but he does reportedly possess a powerful leg.

FSU has a kicker who has at least proven he can generate success at the collegiate level in Aguayo.

Punter

FSU: Logan Tyler

`Bama: JK Scott

Advantage: `Bama

Logan Tyler returns for his sophomore season with the Seminoles. Tyler finished with 50 punts for an average of 40.3 yards per punt. 11 managed to get inside the 20-yard line while 7 went longer than 50 yards. He has a strong leg and that was advertised coming out of high school, but for whatever reason, Tyler’s distance didn’t match his reputation in year one.

Alabama has one of the top returning punters in the entire nation. JK Scott has started for the last three seasons in Tuscaloosa and the senior returns to that role. He punted 64 times for an average of 47.2 yards per punt. An astounding 29 of his kicks went for more than 50 yards while 25 landed inside the 20-yard line. The Crimson Tide have an elite leg who routinely flips the field for them. It’s important not to overlook the kind of impact he could provide.

Returners

FSU: Derwin James, Keith Gavin, Tarvarus McFadden, Nyqwan Murray, George Campbell, Khalan Laborn

`Bama: Trevon Diggs, Xavian Marks, Henry Ruggs

Advantage: FSU

Florida State will have a star studded lineup returning kicks and punts in 2017. The Seminoles will start Derwin James and Keith Gavin at kick returner. Gavin returned kicks last year and broke one free 66 yards against Michigan to set FSU up for the game-winning score. James is uber-athletic and a playmaker, he’ll be electric with the football in his hands or setting up blocks. George Campbell and Khalan Laborn are listed as the backup kick returners. Campbell is known for his speed and could actually provide valuable contributions here if he can stay healthy.

Tarvarus McFadden will take over the starting punt return duties that Nyqwan Murray handled towards the end of last season. This could be partly due to the fact Murray muffed a punt in the Orange Bowl. It’ll be interesting to see the speedy McFadden making plays on the punt return unit.

Alabama brings back Trevon Diggs at kick returner and punt returner. Diggs saw snaps there last season as well. He returned seven kickoffs at an average of 23.7 yards per game. He also brought back 13 punts for an average of 10 yards per return. Diggs is a good return man, but it’s hard to argue he’ll be more explosive than the unit the Seminoles boast. Diggs will be backed up by Xavian Marks, who has one punt return touchdown in his career. Henry Ruggs will also see time.

Dustin Lewis
Lead writer for NoleGameday. Majoring in English Editing, Writing, and Media at Florida State University. Writer for FSView Sports and Hashtag Basketball.

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