While Florida is still looking to remedy its woes on offense, the Gators’ special teams have made as much of an impact as any other unit on the field.
Beyond the kicking abilities of Eddy Pineiro, the punt team has produced what Jim McElwain refers to as “hidden yardage.” Punting – for better or worse – was a key to the team’s win in Nashville last weekend. Against Vanderbilt, the Gators trailed the Commodores in time of possession and total yardage, but with punter Johnny Townsend placing punts deep into Vanderbilt territory, the task was that much more difficult for Derek Mason’s team to find points against Florida’s stout defense. Vanderbilt’s average starting field position was on its own 19.
Punters are like firefighters: You don’t really appreciate them until you need one. Punting is not normally something that excites fans, but since it has helped keep the opposition off the scoreboard, Townsend’s value should be recognized.
Last season, Townsend was named first-team All-SEC by ESPN.com and Gridiron Now. He was named second-team All-SEC by the league’s coaches, Associated Press, and Athlon, and was one of the 10 semifinalists for the Ray Guy Award, which goes to the nation’s best punter.
Townsend averaged 45.4 yards per punt on 83 punts and helped th Gators finish first int he SEC and third nationally in net punting. He is at 50.2 this season on 24 punts.
McElwain gave a lot of credit to his special teams his weekly “Florida Football with Jim McElwain” show. He mentioned Townsend as an “unsung hero.” He also mentioned players like freshman defensive back Chauncey Gardner, who have shown their value coverage units. Gardner downed one of Townsend’s punts at Vanderbilt’s 1, and got a shoutout from SEC Network analyst Andre Ware for his special teams work against the Commodores.
McElwain praised his special teams units, saying, “In high school, these guys didn’t have to play special teams. Now, they’re starting to understand what a huge role that makes in field percentage and hidden yardage.”
With LSU coming to Gainesville this weekend, Gator fans will be most looking forward to seeing the likely return of Luke Del Rio. Hopefully, he will remedy some of the problems Florida’s offense has had over the past two games. If not, and if the trend of three-and-outs continue, Florida fans should be thankful to see No. 19 coming out on the field.
(You can follow Dan Hancock on Twitter @danhancock1978)
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