What else can go wrong?
The football team’s special teams unit seems to be asking that question every time it steps on the field.
Penalties, fumbles, missed kicks, missed blocks and missed tackles have all combined to make special teams a bit of an adventure this season for the Owls, who fell to 0-5 Saturday, courtesy of a 37-21 defeat by Army.
And let’s not forget the Black Knights’ Corey Anderson’s 88-yard return touchdown on the opening kickoff and Jeremy Trimble’s 85-yard punt return for a score in the third quarter.
Those surely didn’t help.
With the unit’s season-long struggles and its inability to leave the Owls’ defense with field position to work with, they have a long way to go.
“If you play like crap on special teams, you’re going to lose,” coach Al Golden said. “That is compounded when you are on the road. It was not a real good effort.”
All told, Trimble returned three punts for 128 yards and Anderson returned two kicks for 102 yards. On the whole, the Owls gave up more than 250 yards on special teams.
“[Anderson] fumbled [the ball] and he ended up scoring, so that was a disaster,” Golden said. “And the punt return, there is no excuse for that. I can’t tell you how disappointed I am.”
However, there were a few bright spots for the Owls. Namely, Terrance Knigton’s blocked kick in the second quarter and the electrifying kickoff returns by Travis Shelton, who accumulated 157 yards and six returns.
Still, the group of mostly freshmen and sophomores has a lot to learn and a lot to improve on.
“We have an issue with prima-donnas on special teams,” Golden said. “There are no fifth-year seniors, there are no seniors, there are no juniors. So, everybody plays on the field before they play on special teams.”
Trimble’s return touchdown, which put the Black Knights up by 10, was a real back-breaker for the Owls. A first down away from being in position to tie the game, the Owls’ offense couldn’t convert on third down, which set up the speedy Trimble to put the game away.
Weaving his way through defenders like a man on a mission, Trimble streaked up the sideline and into the end zone, as Army never looked back. The return capped another frustrating day for the Owls’ special teams.
“I hit it right where coach wanted it – on the numbers,” punter Jeff Wathne said. “I guess coverage was a little slow getting down there.”
“I guess everybody wasn’t in [their] correct lane,” defensive back Jaiquawn Jarrett added. “So, mistakes happen.”
Mistakes normally lead to extended practice time, but the Owls already know what practice feels like.
“We [practiced] 30 minutes a day on special teams this week,” Golden said. “That is an extraordinary amount of time. For [the two touchdowns] to be the result, we’ve got to get that straightened out.”
“We work on special teams every day in practice, so I guess we got to give more effort,” Jarrett said.
Despite the struggles of the special teams, Golden is still optimistic that it can improve. And after giving up two return touchdowns, being a little positive certainly can’t hurt.
Todd Orodenker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.