Florida Football: Special Teams Drama Holding Gators Back

Allison Banko@@allisonbankoFeatured ColumnistOctober 14, 2013

Oct 5, 2013; Gainesville, FL, USA; Florida Gators punter Kyle Christy (4) during the first half of the game against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Foldy-USA TODAY Sports
Rob Foldy-USA TODAY Sports

Florida is still searching for answers with its feet. 

At the season's halfway point, the Gators have yet to establish a consistent kicking or punting game. UF's drama on special teams continues to churn fresh off the weekend's 17-6 loss to LSU, a drop that has launched veteran punter Kyle Christy out of his starting position. 

Christy failed to capitalize in his two opportunities to pin the Tigers in their own territory Saturday, launching a pair of crucial second-half punts into the end zone. 

During Florida coach Will Muschamp's press conference on Monday, he announced freshman Johnny Townsend will take over at punter for the Mizzou game (GatorZone.com). In other words, a freshman will be taking the place of Christy, a 2012 Ray Guy Award finalist (a nod presented to the top punter in college football). 

"We need to make a change there as far as we’ve been very inconsistent punting the ball throughout the season," Muschamp said (GatorZone.com). 

Christy currently holds an average of 39.6 yards per punt in his 21 on the season. Against LSU, the junior averaged 44 yards with four punts. One of his punts in Death Valley cranked in at 50 yards, marking his second 50-yard-plus punt on the season. However, last year, 25 of Christy's 66 punts were measured at 50 yards or more. 

Coming into this year, Christy showed all the signs of being a strength on special teams for Florida. In addition to his spot as a Ray Guy Award finalist, he averaged 45.8 yards per punt to secure him as fifth in the country. Of his 66 punts in 2012, 27 were inside the 20-yard line. This season, Christy has seven inside the 20-yard line.  

Muschamp said he thinks Christy's struggles are more mental than they are physical (GatorZone.com): 

We’ve looked at his swing and different things, and we’ve tried to continue to do so. We’ve looked at all of those things, we’ve tried to make some corrections as far as his drop is concerned, as far as the placement is concerned and as far as the swing is concerned; and it comes to a point where we have to see some production. And right now we’re just not getting it, and I think that Kyle is going to be fine, we just need to work through this time.

While Christy's working through his woes, Townsend will get his first go in the Missouri matchup. Townsend, a 6'1", 191-pound freshman, averaged 44.6 yards per punt as a senior at Boone High School (Orlando, Fla.). The Eagle Scout also played at quarterback and free safety in high school. 

In addition to punter problems, the Gators are still hunting for a reliable kicker. Prior to the LSU game, freshman Austin Hardin and senior Brad Phillips were battling for the spot as both were listed on the depth chart separated by an "OR." But the Gators arrived in Baton Rouge without Phillips. Phillips missed Florida's extra point in its last touchdown against Arkansas. 

So instead, redshirt junior and walk-on Frankie Velez was given a plane ticket to Louisiana.

Against the Tigers, Velez went 2-for-2 in FG attempts to post all of Florida's six points for the game. His 44-yard field goal was the longest successful kick from Florida this season. 

Muschamp said UF chose to give Velez a shot because his numbers in practice were the best leading up to the LSU game. 

"I told him on game day, 'We're going to kick you today. Let's go do a good job.' And he did," Muschamp said in his Monday press conference (GatorZone.com). 

Caleb Sturgis left a huge void in the kicker spot for the Gators. Sturgis, now a Miami Dolphin, was pinned as the best kicker in school history, making the most field goals as a Gator with 70. 

Sturgis showed his support of Velez on Twitter Saturday. 

As for Hardin (who's 4-8 for field goals this season), Muschamp said he thought he kicked off well against the Tigers. Hardin finished the game averaging 64.7 yards with one touchback. The previous week, Hardin suffered a blocked kick against the Razorbacks. So far, the redshirt freshman is at 29 kickoffs averaging 61.8 yards with 11 touchbacks.  

Though frustrated, Muschamp remains optimistic in his special teams players. 

"I’ve got confidence in those guys, and again I don’t think it’s an abilities issue," Muschamp said (GatorZone.com).  "Sometimes mentally you have to be able to overcome those things." 


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