In what was an impressive team win for No. 12 Auburn against Ole Miss last Saturday, there was one unit of the team that was lacking — special teams.
The Tigers muffed a punt, had several returns brought back due to penalties and missed a field goal in Saturday’s 31–20 win over Ole Miss.
“That was an area for us in the last game. We had some penalties, we put the ball on the ground,” coach Bryan Harsin said. “So, we did not play as clean of a game on special teams as we wanted to.”
The first kick return to be called back came on the Tigers’ final offensive drive of the first half, where defensive back Nehemiah Pritchett returned a kick to the Auburn 39 yard line, only for the return to be nullified by tight end Luke Deal. A second penalty in the return game came in an offsetting play on a block-in-the-back call, and the second holding penalty came in the second half following an Ole Miss field goal.
“We’re fortunate to win the game, but there were too many penalties and just too many self-inflicted issues that we have got to correct,” Harsin said.
Harsin and the Tigers have an aggressive mentality on special teams, as has been shown at times throughout the season. The first year coach leaves many of his defensive starters on the field during special teams plays, hoping to ignite a spark in an area that other coaches sometimes neglect.
“As many penalties as we had on kickoff return, we were ready to fair catch it,” Harsin said. “Which is not our mentality.”
In the third quarter, special teams miscues were highlighted for the Tigers. Following a forced three-and-out by the Rebels, the offense drove down the field to the Ole Miss 25-yard line, where the drive stalled and kicker Anders Carlson came out for a 43-yard field goal attempt. The kick was missed, Carlson’s fourth missed kick of the season. The Rebels would again go three-and-out on the ensuing drive, and receiver Demetris Robertson muffed the punt to give Ole Miss the ball deep in Auburn territory.
“Punt return, we work very hard at catching the football and giving our guys a chance,” Harsin said. “That’s an area we just got to get better. We got to get better in our return game."
It wasn’t an entirely negative showing for Auburn special teams on Saturday, as punter Oscar Chapman continued to impress in his second season on the Plains. The sophomore from Australia had three punts, averaging 56 yards per boot. He also had a long of 65 yards in the win.
“Oscar, he’s been pretty consistent for us,” Harsin said. “He’s been able to help us win the field-position battle at certain times in the game when we get a chance to get him out there.”
Thanks to Chapman, the Tigers rank sixth in the country in net punting average.
“The punter position, it’s not one you get to see all the time, but he does really prepare himself for practice for days that we do do punts, he’s on point,” Harsin said.
The Tigers will have a chance to improve their special teams game on Saturday when they head to College Station to take on Texas A&M.
“I don't think guys study special teams like they need to, and that's an opportunity for us to go change the game, to make big plays on teams,” Harsin said.