Josh Kendall

‘We have to go get one’: Gamecocks trying to end this long drought

It’s no secret that turnover margin is strongly associated with winning in college football, with the percentage of victory chances ticking up with each turnover added to the gap in a game. But there’s one statistic that’s an even surer indication of winning.

It’s the lightning bolt of college football statistics: a blocked punt.

“Immediately, block a punt you have a 90 percent chance to win a game,” South Carolina special teams coordinator Coleman Hutzler said.

That’s why Hutzler considers a blocked punt the most dramatic momentum play in the game of football, and why he’s so vexed that South Carolina does not have one during head coach Will Muschamp’s tenure at the school.

The last time the Gamecocks blocked a punt was in 2014, when Carlton Heard blocked a punt against Florida that sparked a 23-20 South Carolina upset against the Will Muschamp-coached Gators. Mushamp was fired following the game, little wonder then that the lack of a blocked punt with his current team was on Muschamp’s mind when he spoke to reporters prior to spring practice.

“That was meeting one this spring, talking to our guys about game breakers,” Hutzler said. “We invest the right time. We have to go execute in the moment. That’s been an issue for us. I guess early on, when we first got here, it was finding a guy who can do it. Now I feel like we have plenty of guys who can go do it.”

A.J. Turner, Shi Smith and Jaycee Horn are three players with a particular knack for it, Hutzler believes.

“There is obviously just natural point A to point B speed. There are guys who are really, really fast, but when they get to that spot, they turn their face, they don’t know (how to do it),” Hutzler said. “There is a naturalness to a guy that knows the timing and repetition to go take the ball off the foot.”

Blocked punts are extremely rare throughout college football. Last season, only 29 teams had more than one. (Toledo led the nation with six.) In 2017, the most recent season full data is available, only 1.4 percent of all kicks were blocked.

Still, the Gamecocks feel their drought has gone on too long.

“That’s something we spend a lot of time on,” Muschamp said.

South Carolina isn’t spending any extra time on it this spring, Hutzler said, and the Gamecocks have always used offensive and defensive starters on special teams under Muschamp.

“We have some things we do to create identity (on special teams). We do a lot to create that kind of buy-in, that kind of unity and taking pride in each position,” Hutzler said. “Coach Muschamp sits on the front row every special teams meeting. We use our starters on special teams. We invest the time and the players to be successful. We have to be more aggressive and go get one.”

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