29 August 2008
It is cliché to say that the kicking game will win or lose a game for you, but it is for the most part true. While a superior team can survive a game with poor special teams, they often do not survive the season.
Now, we will take a look at the special teams units from Alabama and Clemson as we draw closer and closer to the season opener.
Alabama Special Teams vs. Clemson Special Teams
Junior Leigh Tiffin rebounded from an erratic freshman season to go 25 of 35 on field goals last season with two of the 50 yard plus variety. After that infamous Arkansas game in 2006, many Bama fans wondered when the Tide would field a kicker that wouldn’t make them want to throw up when the game was on the line. Leigh Tiffin is that kicker.
To compound the recent agony, P.J. Fitzgerald is also back for his junior season. Fitzgerald had a 34 yard net average last season, which doesn’t exactly bring back memories of Chris Mohr. However, he must have shown Nick Saban something during spring and fall camp as Saban awarded Fitzgerald with a scholarship for the 2008 season.
Setting up deep to return kick offs and punts again this season for the Tide is junior “Crazy” Javier Arenas. Some buddies and I nicknamed Arenas after the delicious lunch steak at Superior Grill in Hoover - the Crazy Javier - so for the balance of the season I will only refer to Arenas as Crazy Javier.
Crazy Javier might be the best return guy in the conference, averaging over 15 yards a punt return last season while gaining an average of 24 yards on kick returns. Super Freshman Julio Jones is slated to be deep with Arenas for kick offs this season. That comes as a surprise to most Bama fans (myself included), who figured fellow freshman B.J. Scott would be the guy.
For Clemson, senior Mark Bucholz is back this season after connecting on 22 of 36 field goals a year ago. Jimmy Maners started for Clemson at punter as a sophomore in 2007 but he may not be back deep for the Tigers this year. Freshman Dawson Zimmerman has been handling first team duties for much of fall camp, so it will be interesting to see who has the job in the opener.
Juniors Jacoby Ford and C.J. Spiller are the kick returners with Spiller bringing two back for touchdowns a year ago. Obviously, Spiller is as big a threat here as from the running back position. Ford handles the punt return duties.
Alabama, with Crazy Javier returning kicks, should be able to gain valuable field position due to Clemson’s 88th national ranking in that category for the 2007 season. Just as bad for Tiger fans is their 115th ranking in punt returns last season.
Most agree that this game will be closely contested throughout. If that turns out to be the case, look for Alabama to have an edge due to Clemson woeful return defense and Tiffin’s leg. Write this down – Leigh Tiffin will
win a game for the Tide that will inspire paintings. Could this be the one?