Arkansas State University Coach Blake Anderson was keen on his special teams after a 51-17 Saturday victory over Coastal Carolina.
Redshirt sophomore kicker Sawyer Williams made all 6 extra-point attempts and made all of his field goals of 17, 22 and 34 yards, and redshirt sophomore punter Cody Grace averaged 48.7 yards per punt.
ARKANSAS STATE VS.
WHEN Thursday, 6:30 p.m.
WHERE Centennial Bank Stadium, Jonesboro
RECORDS Arkansas State 3-2, 2-0 Sun Belt; Louisiana-Lafayette 3-3, 2-1
"That's been the backbone of our football team the last couple of years," Anderson said. "To me, that looked more like what I'm used to from our guys."
The Red Wolves (3-2, 2-0 Sun Belt Conference) have led the conference in each of four major special teams categories -- kickoff return yardage gained and allowed, and punt return yardage gained and allowed -- at least once in Anderson's tenure.
"That has a lot to do with why we've won two conference titles," he said. "That's a huge part of the game."
All four categories were improvements from earlier weeks, particularly in the kicking game.
Since the start of the season, three of Williams' kickoffs had gone out of bounds -- which gives opponents the ball at their 35 instead of the 25 on a touchback -- but only Nebraska scored off the advantage with a field goal in its 43-36 victory in the season opener.
Williams also missed an extra point and a 36-yard field goal in a 48-3 victory over the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, which prompted Anderson to voice support for his kicker.
"The best thing I can do is just encourage him," Anderson said after the game. "Support him and get out of his way so I don't make it worse."
Williams said Monday the support helped him get out of his funk, even when he missed two extra points in a 43-25 victory over Georgia Southern a couple of weeks later.
"I knew I had to make up for the Georgia Southern thing," said Williams, who became ASU's place-kicker in its Cure Bowl victory over Central Florida last season. "Having the team behind my back, like, none of them complaining -- they all had confidence in me.
"They would come tell me, 'You're our guy. You can do this.' Coaches, too. It helped me with my struggle."
Williams has not put a kickoff out of bounds since the second week of the season, and ASU opponents on average now start their possessions after kickoffs at their 24, which ranks second in the Sun Belt.
Williams also made a career-long 43-yard field goal against Coastal Carolina, which isn't a distance he's normally attempting in ASU's 14th-ranked scoring offense in the NCAA (39.8 points per game).
It was a similar situation in high school, when Allen High (Texas) scored 50 points a game in back-to-back state championships. Williams managed a career-long field goal of only 36 yards in high school.
"I really never got to kick far," he said. "I have a pretty good leg. Strong leg is one of my best benefits. I could go plus-50, I mostly believe.
"I'm hoping one game to get in an area where they can trust me."
Grace punted for his best average of the season against Coastal Carolina (48.7 yards per punt), which pushed ASU's season average of 42.2 to the top of the conference.
Grace, a native of Perth, is one of 30 Australians on FBS rosters, and his 42.5-yard punting average is tied for 48th in the nation.
All but one of the Australians who average a minimum of 3.5 punts per game rank in the nation's Top 100 in punting yardage.
Grace crafted his skills while playing Australian Rules Football, in which the ability to punt the football is paramount. He sent ASU a recruiting video of him booting footballs for distance and accuracy.
"I always had an interest in playing American football," Grace said Monday. "I saw it as an opportunity to come over, get an education and obviously play for A-State, which is an awesome school."
After Grace pinned the Chanticleers within their 20 twice, Anderson remarked: "You don't miss something like that until it's gone."
"The coverage is good as well," Grace said. "Whenever I'm getting the ball down there, all the other 10 blokes are doing their job as well.
"I just say it's what I've done all my life, and I just kind of put it on a different shaped field and everyone else does their job as well."
Sports on 10/18/2017
Print Headline: Wolves finding footing