Bowl Game Prep: NC State Special Teams
Punting Unit - D
Sophomore punter Wil Baumann averages just 38 yards per punt (106th in the country) on the season but the Wolfpack are still allowing an average of 9 yards per return. The NC State punt team was also part of one of the more remarkable highlights of the season when North Carolina Tar Heels return man Giovani Bernard returned a Baumann kick 75 yards for a touchdown with 13 seconds left in the rivalry game. This is a unit that can be exploited and Vandy will have been looking at how to make special teams a factor in the field position battle.
The punt return unit has one score on the season but is nothing more than average.
Kickoff Unit - A
The kickoff unit is by far the best part of the North Carolina State special teams arsenal. The coverage unit has not allowed a score in 2012 and hold opponents under 19 yards on each return, which is 17th best in the country. Their kick return unit, on the other hand, returns the ball 23 yards on average and has one score on the season. Though a four yard difference doesn't sound like much it does add up over the course of a game. Add in the ability score and it will be important that the Commodores shut down the kick return game and don't allow the Wolfpack to gain momentum though this part of the game.
Field Goals - F
The only F I have given in this preview goes to the Wolfpack field goal unit. Ranking at an awful 112th in the country NC State kicker Niklas Sade is 12-of-21 on the season for just a 57% conversion rate. Anything beyond 30 yards is an adventure for Sade who is 8-of-17 as the distance increases. Perhaps wisely head coach Tom O'Brien had only asked Sade to attempt one kick of more than 50 yards, it was missed, so expect the Wolfpack to try to make any fourth and shorts in that area of the field. You have to wonder why some kind of open audition wasn't held during the season as Sade was that bad.
Penalties - B
One area where the stats of North Carolina State and Vanderbilt are very similar is penalty yardage. Both teams give up 47 yards a game through foul play and both concede about six flags to make that total. If either team can show better than average discipline on the day it will be a big advantage.
The NC State special teams are definitely a weakness. The field goal kicking has been abject and if Vandy can play the kind of defense which they have displayed all season then Sade will have to make the kicks he is presented with. Field position wins football games and Vanderbilt should gain a field position edge in the special teams battle.
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