UNLV Week Mic Check: Showing a Little Leg

By Chris Lauderback on September 20, 2017 at 4:15 pm
The state of Ohio State's kickoff unit is playing with Urban Meyer's emotions.

Ohio State got back to its winning ways with a 38-7 triumph over the Army Black Knights in the Shoe last Saturday. 

The victory saw J.T. Barrett set a new B1G standard for touchdowns with 107, eclipsing the old mark held by a guy named Drew Brees while freshman tailback J.K. Dobbins got loose for 172 yards on 13.2 per carry with a pair of scores. 

Not everything went right however as Barrett again struggled in the deep passing game and the kickoff unit struggled to both place the ball where Urban Meyer wants it and failed to keep contain on a couple returns. 

Meyer met with the media on Monday and clearly he was still salty about the lack of effectiveness from his kickoff unit. 

Q. In your mind, what are the areas that you think are absolutely critical to get?

COACH MEYER: Pass defense and continue growth on offense. And punt return has still been nonexistent. No one's fault. We just haven't had very many opportunities to return a punt.

Punt team I'm very pleased with. Kickoff coverage is a mess right now. We don't have a kicker that can kick the ball. If you notice, one almost went out up in the seats.

So there's plenty of things that have a lot of issues that we have to get cleaned up and all our focus is on that. It's young players that -- so I'm thinking about Nuernberger being our kickoff guy. Those are the questions that -- those are all the things our focus is on those.

The kicker in Meyer's crosshairs is true freshman Blake Haubeil, who despite struggling through his first three collegiate games, arrived at Ohio State as a consensus top-4 kicker prospect in the nation. 

Haubiel's kickoffs haven't been particularly deep but the bigger issue is placement. First and foremost, Meyer wants kickoffs to land between the yard numbers and the sideline, as close to the sideline as possible.

From there, it's the job of the kickoff coverage team to compress and contain which becomes infinitely harder when kickoffs drift closer to the middle of the field which was the case when Army's Kell Walker returned Haubiel's third kickoff 28 yards to the 38-yard line. 

Meyer was so peeved at the kick placement, he sent in junior Bryan Kristan to attempt his first ever collegiate kickoff which promptly duck hooked 20 yards out of bounds giving Army possession at its 37 yard line. 

Haubiel resumed duties from there and later placed a beauty in the absolute coffin corner, just inside the 1 yard line but Austin Mack lost contain helping trigger a 43-yard scamper from Walker requiring an Erick Smith tackle to prevent a possible touchdown return. 

Meyer's frustration centered on those few plays in particular and looking at the kickoff team results through three games this season compared to unit results since 2012, his disappointment is understandable. 

2017 17 323 19.0 58.3 39.7
2016 52 984 18.9 60.4 40.1
2015 50 813 16.3 60.7 43.2
2014 70 1,207 17.2 60.7 41.9
2013 74 1,361 18.4 60.2 41.0
2012 57 1,184 20.8 61.1 39.8

Through the small sample size of just three games, the kickoff team is giving up the second-most yards per kickoff return (19.0) of the Meyer era while posting the shortest kickoff length (58.3 yards) and yielding the worst net yards per kickoff (39.7). 

Probably even more annoying to Meyer is that the 2017 group has fared worse in each of the first three games. 

In the opener against Indiana, the Buckeyes yielded a steady 16.0 yards per kickoff return (8 ret) but that number swelled to 19.8 yards per return against Oklahoma (4 ret) and finally bloated to 23.2 yards per return against Army on five returns. 

While the coverage unit hasn't been stellar, Meyer sees the root cause of the problems as kick placement and if Haubeil doesn't clean it up soon, he may find himself out of a job if placekicker Sean Nuernberger can prove serviceable in practice. 

With the Buckeyes expected to pile up points against UNLV on Saturday, look for a live competition to play out with Meyer looking to lock down a consistent starter before the schedule provides stiffer competition beginning in October. 

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