Kansas State By Position: Special Teams

Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

What if the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl comes down to field position or a field goal? Here's a quick look at the Wildcats' special teams units.

Punting

Starter: Mark Krause (5'11 Sr.)

Backup: Ethan Hammes (5'9 Sr.)

There's really only one guy punting the ball for the Wildcats, and it's Mark Krause. He attempted all 47 of Kansas State's punts this season, which is near the bottom of the NCAA (tied for 101st). In other words, KSU averages a hair less than one punt per quarter. His mean distance and net yardage looks to be average at best, and for punting so little, the Wildcats give a good chunk of yards back to their opponents (12.8 per return). However, opponents have only returned 10 punts against Kansas State this season, and the average return yardage is bolstered by two  30+ yard returns by North Dakota State and Oklahoma. Take those data points out and KSU gives up a shade over six yards per punt return, which is right below Michigan's average of 6.7 yards. In terms of big plays in the punting game, the Wildcats haven't had a punt blocked while they blocked one against Baylor, and they have not given up a punt return for a touchdown.

Kicking

Starter: Jack Cantele (6'0 So.)

Backup: Ian Patterson (5'11 Fr.)

It's still unclear whether or not Cantele will resume his starting duties in the BWW Bowl, but since he didn't practice yesterday on Christmas day, it looks like Patterson will continue in his place. In the first ten games of the season, Cantele made only one big mistake as far as I can tell: a missed 41 yard field goal that would have tied the game against Baylor. Outside of that, he went 11 for 12 on field goal attempts (the other miss being a 51 yarder) and 40 for 41 on extra points, with the missed PAT being due to a bad snap.

Patterson, a redshirt freshman, started receiving more action on kickoffs a couple of games before the Wildcats lost Cantele to injury. In terms of kickoffs, it doesn't look like either kicker is any better than the other in terms of average yardage. However, in just three more attempts, Patterson has nine more touchbacks than Cantele (17 total in 40 attempts). As for field goals, Patterson doesn't have much to draw from as he's only attempted three, making two and having a 43-yard kick block against Kansas. As a unit, the Wildcats have blocked a pair of field goals and have given up one touchdown on a kickoff against the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns.

Punt Returns

Starter: Tramaine Thompson (5'8 Sr.)

Backup: Tyler Lockett (5'11 Jr.)

Thompson's the main guy in Kansas State's punt return game, and on the season, he's returned nine punts for 182 yards with no touchdowns. He's helped the Wildcats to an average of 15.3 yards per punt return (third in the nation) and has had three returns of 30+ yards: 79 yards against the Cajuns, 40 yards at Texas, and 34 yards versus TCU. In that sense, he comes off the stat book as an all-or-nothing type of returner. If you remove the three big ones, Thompson comes back down to earth and averages less than five yards per return.

Kick Returns

Starter: Tyler Lockett (5'11 Jr.)

Backup: Tramaine Thompson (5'8 Sr.)

Seven players have returned kickoffs for the Wildcats, but Lockett has taken the majority of them (20 total). As a team, KSU is average when returning kickoffs, but Tyler's a little better than that. He averages about 25.5 yards per return as has broken off for over 30 yards in three games (Texas, TCU, and Oklahoma). He hasn't found the end zone, but he seems to give Kansas State decent field position on a consistent basis.

Outlook

Like Michigan, Kansas State hasn't found the end zone off of a kick or punt return. However, the Wildcats have a formidable threat waiting for punts, and if the Wolverines aren't paying attention, Tramaine Thompson might blow past them for a score. I know we're all still waiting for Dennis Norfleet to break one off, but it's unlikely to come against KSU. The Wildcats just don't give up big plays on returns, and Michigan hasn't shown many positives in that area. If the Wolverines do anything against KSU in the return game, look for it to happen on kickoffs (it won't happen on a punt return), but with Patterson booting touchbacks almost half of the time, I'm not counting on it.

If the game turns into a field position battle, punting will be a wash since Krause and Matt Wile are basically the same punter. Both teams sit near the middle of the nation in net punt yardage (Michigan at 60, KSU at 64). The slight edge goes to Kansas State since Krause pins teams inside the 20 at a 36% rate while Wile does the same only 25% of the time.

In terms of kicking field goals, it's hard to say who has the clear advantage since the Wildcats will likely field an untested kicker in Patterson. Neither team has hit from 50+ yards, and Brendan Gibbons has been inconsistent all season for the Wolverines. UPDATE: Since Gibbons will be missing the game due to family issues, Michigan's kicking game relies entirely on the untested foot of Wile, who went 1 for 3 on field goal attempts this season (both misses were from 50+ yards). If the game comes down to field goals, I'd say it's a coin flip as to who comes out on top, but I'll give a slight advantage to Michigan since Drew Dileo's the best holder in the nation.

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