Ohio State football: How much of a concern are special-teams woes?

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State’s special teams miscues against Maryland were almost too many to name.

There was a blocked field goal. A missed field goal. A kickoff Maryland returned for a touchdown. A botched extra-point attempt. Wayward kickoffs. A shanked punt. And, for good measure, a delay of game on a kickoff.

“A young freshman [offensive lineman] gave up a little blocked punt — blocked field goal,” Meyer said. “Our punter did not hit, the freshman punter didn’t hit it very well. And then a veteran kicker, I’m still befuddled with. We’re the only team in the country that can’t kick the ball down the field. It’s something I have to strongly evaluate and find out why.

“And then obviously kick return, you know, part of our kickoff, a big part of our kickoff is kick the ball on target. And we’re not on target. So that’s something to work on and get fixed. And there’s a lot of people upset about that and I’m one of them. We’ll find out.”

Those are things that cannot happen against teams like Penn State, as Ohio State learned last year. With one game until the Nittany Lions come to town, here’s a look at each of the special-teams issues and how concerned Ohio State should be. Each issue is graded on a scale from 1-5, with 5 being the most serious concern and 1 being least worrisome.

Kickoff placement

In the previous three seasons Sean Nuernberger been here, a walk-on has handled kickoff duties in his place. This season, the job went to freshman Blake Haubeil. So for Meyer to turn to Nuernberger ahead of the Maryland game tells you how he felt about Haubeil’s performance. The problem, though, is that his replacement was someone who’d been beat out for the task for four straight seasons.

Nuernberger’s second kickoff was so far to the middle that the Buckeyes gave up a touchdown. He was eventually replaced in the game by Haubeil, though it’s unclear if that is permanent. Either way, Meyer has made clear what the expectations for that role are. And with Saquon Barkley returning kicks for the Nittany Lions, the margin for error is slim.

Concern level: 5/5

Blocked field goal

Sean Nuernberger’s 47-yard field-goal attempt against Maryland was blocked, which shouldn’t be a completely surprising outcome. He is the last Ohio State kicker to hit from that great of a distance… but it came in 2014. The Buckeyes didn’t make a field goal of 40 yards or more in 2015 and only hit one longer than 40 in 2016, a 45-yarder against Maryland.

But the kick wasn’t blocked because it was too low. It was blocked because a defender was standing about 3 inches from his face when he kicked it. Thayer Munford and Malcolm Pridgeon allowed a defender to slide right through, complete with a comically late reaction from Munford (No. 75).

Concern level: 4/5

Missed field goal

Nuernberger has a big leg, but he’s also occasionally missed some short ones. When he finally replaced walk-on Jack Willoughby on field-goal duty in 2015, his first kick was a missed 24-yarder against Illinois. That was his most recent missed field goal — though it’s worth noting he didn’t play in 2016 because of injury — until missing a 29-yarder against Maryland.

Short misfires are excusable against Illinois and Maryland but not so against strong opponents. It wasn’t Nuernberger, but field-goal misses from 21 and 37 yards nearly cost Ohio State the Michigan game last year. More importantly, short misses plant a seed of doubt into the coaching staff when important decisions need to be made.

Concern level: 4/5

Shanked punt

Freshman punter Drue Chrisman has been great for the Buckeyes this season, but he let loose a 22-yarder against Maryland that caused a collective groan from the stands. The good news for Ohio State, though, is that his other punt went 49 yards. Nobody’s perfect, and this doesn’t appear to be a recurring issue.

Concern level: 2/5

Missed PAT

This is the first time in two years that a Liam McCullough snap has been wayward — at least to the point to cause a mishap. That shouldn’t be an issue going forward.

Concern level: 1/5

Kickoff delay of game

That’s a once-in-a-lifetime penalty. Just appreciate that you got to see it happen.

Concern level: 1/5

The post Ohio State football: How much of a concern are special-teams woes? appeared first on Land of 10.

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