And we now we finish up our position-by-position breakdown with the good, the bad and the future of the special teams.
THE GOOD: Kicker Brendan Gibbons was clutch, for the most part, in 2013, nailing 44 of 44 extra points and hitting on 15 of 20 field goals. His five misses came from at least 30 yards. His most memorable game (in a bad way) was against Penn State when he missed a potential game-winner from 52 yards, had a 40-yarder blocked and then missed a 33-yarder. But his best moment of the season came when he hit the field goal to send the Michigan-Northwestern game into overtime. In other positive special teams news, the Wolverines continued their upward trend in kick returns under coach Brady Hoke. In the 2011 season, the Wolverines averaged 18.4 yards per return. Last season, that number improved to 22 yards per return, and this season, it saw an ever-so-slight increase to 22.1 yards per return. Sixteen percent of the Wolverines kickoff returns went for 30 or more yards, which ranked 45th nationally and third in the Big Ten.
THE BAD: While the statistics have gotten better for kick returns, punt returns are another story. In Hoke’s first season, the Wolverines averaged 9 yards per return. In 2012, that dropped to 8.8 yards per punt return, and this season, it dropped to 6.7 yards per return (89th nationally, 10th in the Big Ten). Only twice in 2013 did Michigan return a punt at least 20 yards (60th nationally, tied for sixth in the Big Ten). And when it came to punting, it was even worse. Matt Wile, who punted 61 times, averaged 40.6 yards per punt, which ranked 105th in the nation. Wile punted inside the opponents 10-yard line six times this season, which was only good enough for 59th nationally. By comparison, Michigan State’s Mike Sadler led the nation with 23 punts inside the 10-yard line, while second place wasn’t even close (Auburn’s Steven Clark with 15).
Punt and kickoff coverages weren't great, either. On average, opponents lined up at their own 31-yard line after punt returns (106th nationally, 10th in the Big Ten), and 57 percent of the time opponents returned punts at least 5 yards (91st nationally, ninth in the Big Ten). On kickoffs, opponents' average starting point was at their own 28 (93rd nationally, ninth in the Big Ten), and 21 percent of the time opponents returned kickoffs at least 30 yards (102nd nationally, 11th in the Big Ten). By comparison, Wisconsin led the Big Ten by allowing opponents to return kickoffs at least 30 yards on just three percent of kickoffs.
THE FUTURE: Wile should take over as the fulltime kicker and will continue punting duties most likely, though Michigan hopes to see vast improvements in that area. Down the road, this job will likely go to Kenny Allen, who will be the holder next season. Meanwhile, Dennis Norfleet will continue on returns and long snapper Scott Sypniewski will step in for three-year starter Jareth Glanda.