War Eagle Extra

2015 Overall Report Card: Auburn’s special teams

Michael Niziolek

mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

Auburn kicker Daniel Carlson connects on the second of two field goals Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015 at Jordan-Hare Stadium in the Iron Bowl.
Auburn kicker Daniel Carlson connects on the second of two field goals Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015 at Jordan-Hare Stadium in the Iron Bowl.

Auburn’s overall lack of consistency didn’t include its special teams unit.

The Tigers might not have produced one standout individual memorable moment ala the Kick Six, but the strength of the group on a week-to-week basis is one of the reasons they were able to secure bowl eligibility.

A leg above

Daniel Carlson was an important weapon for Auburn this season.

He shortened the field for a struggling offense with his field goal range and proved to be the Tigers’ most reliable option in the red zone.

The sophomore is one of three finalists for the Lou Groza Award, presented annually to the country’s top placekicker. Coach Gus Malzahn predicted Carlson would get national recognition weeks before the announcement.

“We have a lot of confidence in him when (the ball) crosses the 30 or 35 yard line,” Carlson said. “He has a high success rate. He’s done a great job. If you look at the kickoffs too, he has to be one of the best placekickers in college football. I think at the end of the year, everybody will see him up for all of those awards and I think that will be very warranted.”

Carlson finished the year 22 of 26 in field goals made and his record streak of 16 consecutive field goals ended in the regular season finale. His 22 field goals this season ties Auburn alum Scott Etheridge’s single-season record set in 1992.

His 71.43 touchback percentage is fourth in the country.

Getting it right

Kevin Phillips didn’t have the strongest finish to the season, but the junior college transfer’s first year in an Auburn uniform wasn’t a bad one.

He averaged 41.1 yards a punt (52 attempts) and landed 16 inside the 20. He memorably converted a fake punt against Idaho to set up a key early touchdown.

The Tigers’ return game was also a net positive this season.

While Auburn didn’t score a kick or punt return touchdown, opposing teams had its group of returners including Rudy Ford, Blake Countess and Kerryon Johnson. Countess came the closest to breaking one with a 61-yard return against San Jose State.

Auburn had strong coverage on returns with one major exception — Georgia’s Isaiah McKenzie 53-yard punt return for a touchdown. McKenzie’s score in the fourth quarter broke a 10-10 tie to help the Bulldogs escape Jordan-Hare Stadium with a win.

The play isn’t enough to dock the group a full letter grade for what was otherwise a strong year.

Final Grade: A-minus

Michael Niziolek covers Auburn football for the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. Email him at mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com or follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+

Related stories from Columbus Ledger-Enquirer

  Comments