The Wolverine

2021 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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THE WOLVERINE 2021 FOOTBALL PREVIEW ■ 119 [ S P E C I A L T E A M S ] PRESEASON ANALYSIS: STARTERS The Wolverines were supposed to have one of the best combinations of kickers and punters in the country last year, bringing four experienced specialists into the season. That never really ma- terialized, though Brad Robbins led the Big Ten and ranked 10th nationally in punting (45.3-yard average). With Quinn Nordin off to the NFL, it's up to Jake Moody — who went just 1 of 4 last season, but was 16 of 20 his first two years — to correct the kicking miscues, or rookie Tommy Doman might receive a shot. Long snapper William Wagner started every contest last fall, while new kick and punt return- ers will need to be broken in, with very few on the roster having even limited experience doing so in college. DEPTH The depth isn't there like last year after, and most of what U-M does boast in this depart- ment is unproven. However, Doman was rated as a blue-chip punting and kicking recruit. OVERALL Special teams have been solid overall under Jim Harbaugh, but outside of Robbins there weren't many positives for the third facet of the game last fall. The Wolverines didn't allow any blocked kicks or punts, but also didn't tally any. If Moody regains his freshman-year form on field goals — when he made 10 of 11 — this should be a plus again. what these guys' are. The expectations keep increasing, and they're just not fair. "They're better than Hayden Epstein, and Epstein played three years in the NFL. It's similar to what we see with the team and the coaches. Everybody wants every- body to be perfect, and if they're not perfect, there is all this criticism. "But if you can step back and look at the numbers, look at what the results have been, people can get a better perspective. It's Michigan, so people want and expect everybody to be the best of the best." Robbins became the best in a rocky year overall, averaging 45.3 yards per punt on 23 attempts, leading the Big Ten and ranking 10th nationally. He hammered five punts for more than 50 yards, pinning opponents inside their own 20 eight times. He performed well enough that the aforementioned former Big Ten Punter of the Year transferred out in December. Kornblue believes Robbins is poised to show ev- eryone why. "When he came out of high school, I really went to bat for him, directly to Harbaugh," Kornblue recalled, "because of what I saw in him — his athleticism, his punting abil- ity. But the biggest thing was his operation time, which is so unique for a high school kid. "Most guys really struggle getting that operation time to where they need it to be right away. It usually takes a little time. He obviously played as a true freshman and did okay, but certainly was nowhere near where the team wanted." Back surgery intervened, and Robbins faced a long road to reclaim what most thought he'd own for four straight years. "He had to sit out quite a while," Kornblue said. "Now he's getting his groove back. "I'm expecting — and I think Brad and the team are expecting — big things from him moving forward. He's a competitor. Looking back at his background of being able to dunk a basketball, a really good baseball player … he wants to play. He wants to be the guy. "I think he's going to have a really, really good year. His strength is his over- all understanding of being a pure punter, getting good hang time and distance, and putting those together. "With Hart and [fellow former Wolverine Will] Hagerup, you've had good averages, but the net wasn't always what you wanted it to be. Robbins can help in that area. It's hard to find a guy like that, who can match the hang time with the distance." Moody will be looking to match the present with the red-hot start to his kicking career at Michigan. Moody nailed 14 of his first 15 field goal attempts as a Wolverine, and stood atop U-M's all-time percentage list prior to last fall. An 0-of-3 performance in Michigan's otherwise uplifting opening-game win against Minnesota derailed Moody's chances. Now with Nordin off to the NFL, he stands ready to pick up where he left off … in 2019. "Man, he is a fantastic kicker," Kornblue raved. "In the same way I think Quinn could have been, with just a little more time and confidence in just him being the guy. I think the same thing for Jake. Now that he is the guy, I think he is going to have a fantastic year. "He's so smooth. His temperament is so calm. There's no up and down. He's just kind of steady Eddie. His swing has a really good tempo to it, and he's got strength, as seen by his ability to handle kickoffs the last couple of years. "Now it's his chance to be the guy. He's got two years left, so it really gives THE WOLVERINE 2021 FOOTBALL PREVIEW ■ 119 [ S P E C I A L T E A M S ] YEAR-BY-YEAR KICKING LEADERS PUNTING Year Player Punt Attempts Avg. Punt Long 2020* Brad Robbins 23 45.3 66 2019 Will Hart 51 44.2 61 2018 Will Hart 43 47.0 65 2017 Brad Robbins 64 40.4 58 2016 Kenny Allen 54 43.3 67 2015 Blake O'Neill 53 41.3 80 2014 Will Hagerup 53 42.9 63 2013 Matt Wile 61 40.6 69 2012 Will Hagerup 33 45.0 62 2011 Matt Wile 17 41.6 58 FIELD GOALS Year Player FG Att. FG Made Long 2020* Quinn Nordin 5 2 46 2019 Quinn Nordin 13 10 57 2018 Quinn Nordin 16 11 50 2017 Quinn Nordin 24 19 55 2016 Kenny Allen 23 19 51 2015 Kenny Allen 22 18 47 2014 Matt Wile 21 15 48 2013 Brendan Gibbons 20 15 47 2012 Brendan Gibbons 18 16 52 2011 Brendan Gibbons 17 13 43 *Only played six games due to COVID-19 pandemic X-FACTOR X-FACTOR Who steps up as a returner? Although the Wolverines finished 24th nationally with an average of 23.64 yards per kickoff return and ran one back to the house last year, they must replace Giles Jackson, who returned 13 of the 21 kickoffs and five of the seven punts the team fielded. Freshman running back Blake Corum is the most experienced, but averaged just 19.2 yards on five kickoff returns and did not gain any yards on his lone punt runback.

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