Notre Dame, IN (UHND.com) – The special teams units for Notre Dame were quite busy on Saturday and found themselves in the highlights a couple times – not all of them being in a good way for the Irish. Before the first half was over, the Notre Dame special teams units allowed a kickoff return for a touchdown, blocked an extra point, and returned a punt for a touchdown.
The second half would prove to be just as much of an up and down affair for the Irish with Notre Dame blocking another extra point but also adding a muffed punt to their rollercoaster performance.
Charlie Weis point out on Sunday that, “Our kickoff coverage unit was basically pretty strong on eight of nine kickoffs, but they count all of them.”
After taking a 24-7 lead behind the strength of a 27 yard field by Carl Goia, Notre Dame gave up a 90 yard, tackle breaking kickoff return for a touchdown by Brandon Tate of North Carolina. Three different Notre Dame defenders had chances to tackle Tate on the return , but all three came up short and Tate out ran Leo Ferrine for the score.
“Three guys had the opportunity to make the play, and it wasn’t the fake reverse that had anything to do with it. People had the opportunity to make the play and we just didn’t get him down that otherwise negated a pretty solid day on our kickoff coverage,” lamented Weis at his Sunday press conference.
The Notre Dame special teams would redeem themselves somewhat for the return on the ensuing extra point when Derek Landri got a hand up to block the extra point. Landri would also add another blocked extra point in the third quarter.
“I thought they were both high effort, big plays,” said Weis of his fifth year senior’s special teams impact against the Tar Heels.
The Irish would go on to add a touchdown return of their own with just under three minutes remaining in the half when Tommy Zbikowski took a North Carolina punt 52 yards to pay dirt. Zibby nearly took a second punt in for six a few plays later but just barely got tripped up.
After the game, Zbikowski commented on his near miss saying, “Oh don’t bring it up. It was too close, I felt like I was ready to bring it back, I just got a little tripped up.”
Charlie Weis would add on Sunday, “We finally get a return for a touchdown on the one with Zibby, and we were a shoe string away from another one so we were real close to having a two touchdown day on punt returns.”
Weis wasn’t the only return man for the Irish who a had nice though. Sophomore wide receiver David Grimes nearly broke a return of his own for a touchdown with a 50 yard return. Grimes made one man miss and nearly took it the distance and really showed a burst that we hadn’t seen much since the Georgia Tech game.
Weis even noted on Sunday, “It’s been a while since we had that kind of production on our return units.”
The last special teams blunder came in the fourth quarter when freshman receiver George West muffed a punt just after Weis took his first team offense out of the game. Weis took some of the blame for West’s mistake sating, “It caught him a little off guard that I was putting him in there,” but would add that, “He’s still got to catch it.”
Weis put West back in the game to return the last North Carolina punt of the game and the freshman responded with a 10 yard return.
Despite a 45.8 yard punting average from senior Geoff Price, Weis wasn’t too thrilled with the Notre Dame punting game Saturday. “We had a couple of our punts that we kicked into the end zone on plus 50 situations. We need to do better than that,” commented the Notre Dame coach.
Two of Price’s five punts went for touchbacks, but on the flip side, two of the four were also stopped inside the 20 yard line. Price’s fifth punt was fielded at the five and returned sixteen yards or Price would have had three inside the 20.
All in all, it was a very up and down game for the Notre Dame special teams units and with the lack on consistency in this department, it’s a safe bet that there will be a little extra emphasis on special teams this week in practice.