A little luck, a lot of execution: Nebraska sees special teams trending upward

Nebraska, in its pursuit of field goal blocks, utilizes a single word to label its calls — crash. The successful execution of the first block of the season was no mere coincidence. when asked about the Purdue kick that resulted in a game-changing 66-yard touchdown for the Huskers, Ed Foley's face lit up like a jack-o-lantern. Foley, the special teams coordinator, eagerly described the factors that contributed to the play's success during his first media interaction since fall camp.

A little luck, a lot of execution

As the eldest assistant on coach Matt Rhule's staff and known for his animated demeanor, the 56-year-old Foley's excitement grew as he explained how the Purdue hold was flawed, leading to a low kick that enabled NU lineman Elijah Jeudy to make contact with the ball. Foley mimicked the push Ty Robinson exerted on the line with a hand gesture. He then grinned while discussing how cornerback Quinton Newsome positioned himself perfectly, alongside the holder, to take advantage of the deflection.

Nebraska sees special teams trending upward

This sequence serves as a representation of Nebraska's special team's performance this season — a combination of some good fortune and exceptional execution. The impact of the special teams has been more significant in terms of contributing to victories than the Huskers have experienced in previous years.

ESPN's efficiency ranking, which evaluates all 133 FBS special teams units based on their per-play contribution to scoring margin, positions Nebraska in 40th place. This ranking surpasses any previous performance by NU since 2017. Notably, the Huskers have successfully blocked a punt (Blaise Gunnerson against Illinois) and a kick, playing crucial roles in securing wins in the Big Ten. when you achieve a block, there's a belief that you can replicate it every time," Foley affirmed. "In my experience, blocks tend to be contagious because there's a sense of belief associated with them."

tristan Alvano, a freshman kicker, has achieved success with his recent field goal attempts, including new personal records set in consecutive games against Illinois (32 yards), Northwestern (47 yards), and Purdue (55 yards). Punter Brian Buschini has excelled in altering field position, with a greater number of punts landing inside the opponent's 20-yard line this season (16) compared to the entire previous season (14), despite fewer attempts thus far.

the one area that remains a clear exception is punt return. Without prompting, both Rhule and Foley have identified this aspect as requiring substantial improvement. Nebraska currently ranks 120th nationally in generating return yards, with a mere total of 20. In contrast, Penn State leads the Big Ten with 249 return yards in the same number of games. Additionally, the Huskers have lost numerous yards by allowing balls to hit the ground and roll. The absence of receiver Billy Kemp, the primary returner who is sidelined due to injury, further exacerbated the issues faced against Purdue. The opening quarter witnessed a near disaster when Alex Bullock mishandled a catch.

"We need improvement across the board in that unit," Foley acknowledged, while also considering freshman Ethan Nation as a potential candidate for returns. "While I appreciate some of the progress we've made on special teams, the punt return aspect is not where we want it to be. We must continue exploring our options." Nebraska encountered another setback with a fumble on the opening kickoff during a runback by Garrett Snodgrass.

meanwhile, the offense's numerous injury concerns have spilled over into the special teams. As a result of multiple offensive line injuries, redshirt freshman walk-on offensive lineman Dylan Parrott made his debut on the field-goal team during the Saturday game. Foley mentioned that freshmen Rahmir Stewart (defensive back) and Malachi Coleman (receiver) have recently been involved in certain plays, alongside the consistent contributions of sophomore safety Koby Bretz, and special-teams stalwarts Garrett Snodgrass and Grant Tagge.

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