Punt game could be crucial to Cal Poly, Montana

jscroggin@thetribunenews.comOctober 18, 2013 

In each of the past two weeks, Cal Poly has been credited with a fumbled punt return when the ball caromed off an unwitting blocker on the return team.

The mishap cost the Mustangs a turnover in the 24-10 loss to Yale two weeks ago. And it nearly turned into a Weber State touchdown in the early portion of a 47-0 Cal Poly victory last week.

“We’ve worked hard on the coverage lanes, and we think we’ve improved,” Cal Poly head coach Tim Walsh said. “On the other side of it, you can’t block inside the 10-yard line, and the returner has to do a better job of communicating to his blocking guys that the ball might be in danger. 

“Those are things that are talked about every day, and they need to be carried out.”

It’s all part of a troubling trend for the Mustangs’ special teams, and it could have a big impact on today’s game at Montana. 

The Mustangs gave up two punt returns for touchdowns against Fresno State. In all, they’ve had three kicks and one punt blocked. And statistically, Cal Poly is among the nation’s worst in the punt game. 

The Mustangs’ 33.8-yard net punting average is the lowest in the Big Sky Conference and ranks 91st in the FCS. They’ve allowed 13.5 yards per punt return, which ranks 109th out of 122 FCS teams, and are actually ranking worse on their own returns. Averaging just 2.7 yards, Cal Poly punt returners are 110th in the FCS. 

“We’ve been focusing on our ‘Wild Bunch’,” sophomore punter Paul Hundley said referring to the team nickname for its special teams unit, “because in the last four games, half of them have been determined by that. 

“In meetings,” added Hundley, who ranks eighth in the country with a 44-yard punt average, including a career-long 73-yarder, “we’re just pretty much focused on the other teams’ schemes on punt, where they rush from and who they send. 

“We’ve been cleaning up a lot, but every team is different.”

Conversely, Montana has been one of the nation’s best. The Grizzlies’ 42.8-yard net punting average leads the FCS. Montana is allowing  just 2.8 yards per punt return. 

 

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