Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

MARSHALL FOOTBALL ; Special Teams a Plus; Kickoffs? Punts?; Herd Has 'Em Covered

Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

MARSHALL FOOTBALL ; Special Teams a Plus; Kickoffs? Punts?; Herd Has 'Em Covered

Article excerpt

HUNTINGTON - In winning 29 games over three seasons, Marshall's kick coverage has been as big a factor as any. And this season, the Thundering Herd's coverage teams have been one of the nation's best by any measure. Not that the Herd has had to defend that many returns. With Amareto Curraj booming 41 touchbacks, only 27 kickoffs have been returned. Of Tyler Williams' 68 punts, only 24 have been returned.

So that's 51 kicks run back against the Herd in 12 games, few of them returned very far. That has given MU a field-position advantage in most games.

On kickoffs, the Herd is eighth in kickoff return defense, holding foes to 16.93 yards per attempt. Conference USA ranks teams for kickoff coverage, and MU's 41.9-yard net easily leads the league. (In other words, Herd foes start on the 23-yard line after a kickoff, on average.)

The season long is only 29 yards, accomplished by Florida Atlantic's Cre'von LeBlanc. The Herd even dared to let Florida International's Richard Leonard, dangerous as he is, return five kickoffs. He averaged only 18.6 yards, with a long of 28.

MU's punt return defense is 28th in the nation, with runbacks held to 4.83 yards. The long return is 22 yards by Jalen Richard of Southern Mississippi; Ohio's Papi White had a 16-yard runback, Kent State's Ernest Calhoun a 14-yarder and Charlotte's Ardy Holmes a 10- yarder.

Other than that, not much.

Long snapper Matt Cincotta has seen the improvement in his four years. In 2012, as the Herd's pool of special-teams players was severely drained by injuries, opponents averaged 25.8 yards on kickoff returns and 9.8 on punt returns. Three kickoffs and one punt went back for touchdowns, and the Herd hasn't given up a score since.

"We learned a lot from my first year, Cincotta said. "I think a lot of times we overpursued; we didn't keep everybody inside and in front of us. …

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