The Wolverine

November 2018

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 27 of 83

28 THE WOLVERINE NOVEMBER 2018 Not too many kickers talk about strength and condi- tioning when it comes to approaching their craft, at least not compared to say, of- fensive linemen. But Nordin insisted he's gained consid- erably from getting after it in the offseason. In France on this year 's team trip, Nordin noted: "I'm a lot stronger than I was last year. I was shocked. Coach Herb [new strength and con- ditioning coach Ben Herbert] just expanded new knowl- edge that I didn't have, on where I could take my body." At the same time, he noted he wanted to make more kicks. "Accuracy is something I really want to hone in on," he said. "How far it goes, that's not usually the problem. We had a better spring than we did last year as a group. It was really good. It was just not where I want to be." Nordin said he's learned a lot in his relatively short time at Michigan, including how to shake off missed kicks. He hasn't needed to employ those lessons learned much this year, and he'd prefer to keep it that way. He nailed a kick from 61 yards out before one spring practice, but hasn't needed to attempt any such field goals in live action for the Wol- verines. Harbaugh would probably like to avoid the sort of situation that would call for one of those as well. The bottom line so far involves Nor- din delivering when needed, on his way to possibly becoming as prolific as any Michigan kicker that's walked through the door. KICK GAME PROWESS Bredeson appreciates Michigan's special teams, and the job coaches Chris Partridge and Jay Harbaugh do in handling them. "That's something I've really no- ticed, just how great of a special teams unit we have, across the board," Bredeson said. "Coach Partridge, Coach Jay, they do a great job setting everything up." For Bredeson, it doesn't have to be a 60-yard punt return or a 99-yard kickoff runback to grab his attention. He's looking at the yards saved on what may look like routine plays, but that can often become disasters if not well handled. "A big thing for me is, when we have kickoffs, we're consistently able to pin those guys behind the 20, if they decide to take it out," Brede- son said. "Our punt coverage rarely misses a beat. We're able to get big returns when we're receiving the ball. "It's great to see that, and I'm al- ways very impressed with the way our special teams units come out." The exception to the rule occurred against Maryland, when the Terra- pins' Ty Johnson reeled off a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, the Terps walling off Michigan's attack- ers. Michigan's head coach became particularly animated over that slip in the norm, something he hasn't had to worry about much this season. Freshman kicker Jake Moody out of nearby Northville, Mich., stepped in to take over on kickoffs this year. He's been another pleasant surprise, con- sistently putting balls deep into the end zone, or hanging them around the goal line, forcing returners into a tough decision. Twenty-eight of his first 50 attempts have gone for touch- backs (56.0 percent). If the hiccup against Maryland is taken out of the equation, the Wol- verines would have allowed just 13 kickoff returns to go for a total of 194 yards, an average of 14.9 that would rank second nation- ally through seven weeks. "We knew when we evalu- ated him how strong his leg was," Partridge noted. "We didn't know how mature he was. He's been able to come in and just take the job like that. "He's got the strong leg, obviously, but when we di- rectionally kick off or you get conditions there, you don't know how a young guy is going to react and be able to do it. But he's been phenom- enal." By contrast, the Wolverines not only featured Thomas' lightning strike at Notre Dame, they've been consis- tently adept at putting them- selves in good position after kickoffs. At the midway point of the regular season, they ranked 52nd in the nation, averaging 21.7 yards per kick return. Punting, though, is where the Wol- verines have stunned everyone. When last year's starter for the latter part of the season — sophomore punter Brad Robbins — underwent back surgery, those outside of Schembechler Hall wondered what the Wolverines were going to do. Those watching Hart on a daily ba- sis didn't. He stepped in and not only made certain the Wolverines didn't lose ground, but has punted like he intends to keep the job. Hart imme- diately began eclipsing the 37.7-yard punting average he posted in the opening four games last season. Last year, Michigan averaged 39.6 yards per punt, 35.7 in net punting. Through seven games this season, Hart had the Wolverines at 51.0 per punt on average and 42.1 in net punt- ing, numbers that ranked second and 11th nationally, respectively, through Oct. 14. The dramatic increase added to a stout Michigan defense, bottling up opponents inside their own 20 eight times. In addition, 13 of Hart's initial 20 punts this season traveled more than 50 yards. "Any time you can flip the field is huge," Partridge said. "Any time you can win the field-position battle, which we've been doing, is big." Partridge noted that Hart made True freshman Jake Moody has taken control of the kickoff job and recorded 28 touchbacks on 50 attempts (56.0 percent) through seven games. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN

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