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LSU-Bama Preview: The Tiger Special Teams
LSU Punter Brad Wing
LSU Punter Brad Wing
Posted Nov 2, 2011

In a game between such dominating defenses, field position and special teams points may prove to be the difference between winning and losing. CFN's Russ Mitchell and Pete Fiutak break down the strengths/weaknesses of each team's squad to identify where advantage may be found, or lost.

Russ Mitchell – LSU’s Special Teams

First and foremost, if you remember nothing else from your prep work for this game, remember this: Special Teams will likely determine its winner.

Oh sure – everyone will focus on the Lee pass or the Richardson run…but these stars will secure their accolades from field position won by the foot of a punter or the discipline of a coverage team. In a game with such dominant defenses, it will be efficiency in terms of points from special teams and attention to detail/discipline on coverage units that are likely to be the differentiators.

In the battle beneath the battle (field position), LSU has the decided upper hand: its punter, freshman Brad Wing. Celebration penalties notwithstanding, the Australian has shined this season. Wing ranks best in the conference in net punting (fifth in the nation) at 41 net yards per punt. By comparison, Bama is ninth in the conference (67th in the nation) at 36 net yards per punt.

Given the number of times these punters are likely to take the field on Saturday, that five yard differential per punt could amount to a considerable Tiger advantage.

Net punting is of course impacted by punt return coverage, which for the Tigers is aided by Wing’s hang time and accuracy, both of which are noteworthy. So much so that through eight games, LSU has allowed only seven punt return yards. Not seven per game…seven total. After 38 punts.

The Tide have only punted 28 times, and have allowed a respectable 50 punt return yards. But the differential is stark: 1.8 vs. 0.18.

Put another way, in that one flag against Florida, Wing was penalized twice as many yards as his punts have been returned all season.

In the other facets of Special Teams, there is little difference between these two programs.

As has been the case since Miles arrived in Baton Rouge, the Bayou Bengals once again have a dependable kicker in Drew Alleman. The junior has only missed two field goals all season – a 50 yarder late in the second quarter against Northwestern State, and a 30 yard chip shot to start the third quarter in Morgantown, WV. Overall, Alleman is 10-12.

Bama’s chief placekicker Jeremy Shelley is on par with Alleman; 11-13. The Tide’s team field goal kicking record is negatively impacted by sophomore Cade Foster, who has gone 1 for 3 in garbage time against Kent State, Ole Miss and Tennessee.

On kickoff returns again it’s mostly a wash: LSU ranks third in the SEC and 28th nationally averaging 23.77 yards per kickoff return, while Bama fits in fifth in the conference at 23.47 yards per kickoff.

Same thing again on kickoff coverage…the Tigers have allowed 989 kickoff return yards on 50 kicks, for a 19.8 yard average, while Bama has allowed 1136 yards on 57 kicks, for a 19.9 yard average. Both coverage teams are disciplined and deliver punishing hits, if LSU’s have been featured more prominently on CBS telecasts.

In the end, the two programs are very similar in special teams with one glaring difference – net punting. In what is very likely to be a field position game, this lone factor could be the difference in a Tiger road victory.

Follow Russ on Twitter @RussMitchellCFB

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