The hidden yards go silent in box scores but are obvious to coaches and fans alike.
Florida State’s struggles yet again in the punt return game pinned them deep in three specific situations. Will Spiers’ 49-yard punt pinned FSU at the 8-yard line in the first quarter. But then Spiers hit a 47-yarder to the FSU 19 in the fourth quarter and then a 56-yarder to the FSU 9, leaving the Seminoles in a bad spot with a lengthy field and just 23 seconds to go.
Special teams coordinator John Papuchis said the objective is to field call of the punts but also said he and the coaching staff caution against taking risks that would allow the opponent’s coverage unit to make a recovery.
“Obviously that’s been a source of frustration throughout the course of this whole year,” Papuchis said. “We’ve given up a lot of hidden yardage just by letting the ball hit the ground. … Now you got to be a good decision maker. The UMass example where the ball is kind of spraying all over the field. If you don’t feel like you can field it cleanly, our No. 1 team objective every week is to own the football. We want the offense to have the next snap no matter what. So we’re going to make sure that happens.”
Papuchis said two of the three returns could have and should have been caught or fair caught by Treshaun Ward before the punt rolled toward FSU’s end zone. Ward is a relatively new punt returner, and the coaching staff liked what he offers as far as vision and speed in the return game.
“There was two balls for sure that hit the ground the other day that we absolutely need to field,” Papuchis said. “The last kick, give credit where it needs to have — they roll punted, they kicked it back across the field, they were trying to keep out of his hands. Of course we don’t want to give up the yardage. But if he didn’t feel comfortable going to get it, obviously we prefer to have the ball vs. diving. Now get on top of it so the clock stops rolling. That’s a critical piece of it.”
Papuchis said there is also a balance of telling a returner to “field everything,” which he thinks will induce some bad decisions, too. FSU had used three punt returners against UMass because of what they had shown on film but the coaches went back to a single punt returner vs. Clemson.
“Last week Clemson had not shown to ever kick back across the field,” Papuchis said. “So that wasn’t really part of the game plan. Good job by them and the situation to be able to go execute it that way. So, yes, if the situation dictates, two returners are always an option. Three returns were an option a couple weeks ago. That really wasn’t part of the thought process at the end of the game the other day, just because it hadn’t been something that they had shown to do.”
FSU has had season-long issues in the punt return game. Keyshawn Helton averaged 6.8 yards on six returns, and Ontaria Wilson averaged 3.8 yards on four returns. Ward did have an 11-yard return against Clemson.
Recruiting ‘lifeblood of a program’
On Monday, Florida coach Dan Mullen set aside a question about recruiting when asked by a media member and saying he would comment as it got closer to the early signing day. While he was not being dismissive about the importance of recruiting, Mullen took heat from Florida fans and media for his response.
Norvell has largely been praised for what he has said during FSU’s struggles in 2021, stating he has been candid to recruits about the rebuild of the program. He also said in September that he was seeking recruits who wanted to be part of the rebuild.
On Tuesday, Norvell was asked about recruiting.
“That is the thing that is great about college coaching is just all the different things you get to be a part of. There is no question — recruiting is the lifeblood of a program,” Norvell said. “What we have to do, the constant evaluation, the constant development in relationships. We talk about it all the time, as you go through, whether it was June when we first went live, from 12:01 a.m., we were being active. It’s about every chance that you could build those relationships, all the things that we can do in our evaluation to make sure we’re getting the right fit for Florida State. …
“There is a lot of momentum there for us in the recruiting world and a lot of excitement about not only who is coming but also what the future is going to be. It is one of the joys of my job. I love seeing kids get opportunities and seeing them grow through that process as we are doing the same thing as a staff.”