Duck fans are accustomed to Oregon teams producing extreme statistics. Chip Kelly's philosophy means we can expect the Ducks to be near the top of a dozen offensive categories. The defense is on the field for a ton of plays, which makes for some unusual defensive stats, like leading the FBS in turnovers recovered or being last in time of possession. There are a couple Kelly-induced outlier stats like 4th down and two-point conversion attempts. But this season there's one area where Oregon's numbers have been horrible, and it's not a product of the system.
Field Goal Kicking
122th in field goal percentage (5/12 = 41.7%)
43rd in extra point percentage (79/80 = 98.8%)
Lets' get the team's most obvious difficulty out of the way. 122nd actually understates Oregon's problems because many of our FG attempts were relatively short. The few schools ranked below us barely made use of field goal kicking. I'd say only Bowling Green had a worse FG game this season. Both returning kickers were significantly worse this year than in the past. Points after was a bright spot, although the team wasn't as successful with 2 point conversions (3 for 5) as it usually has been under Kelly (15 for 19 in the three prior seasons).
121st Kickoff Return Average 17.3 yards/return
13th Punt Return Average 14.2 yards/return
The Kickoff returns look a little better when you account for a couple onside recoveries and opponents occasionally short-kicking it to non-primary returners. De'Anthony Thomas and Keanon Lowe averaged 21 yards per return, which is acceptable. Still, De'anthony averaged more than 27 yards per return last year. On the other hand, the punt returning is great, and a testament to Thomas' skills. It's also the only major special teams stat that's above average.
Punting (4.0 punts/game 97th in FBS)
93rd Gross Punting 39.6 yards/punt
112th Opponent Punt Returns 14.2 yards/punt
111th Net Punting 34 yards/punt
Last year, Jackson Rice averaged six more yards per punt, was first in the conference in average, and was a candidate for the Ray Guy award. One thing mitigates what would otherwise have been more of a disaster: the Ducks were slightly above average at punting it out of bounds and preventing returns. Also, a good chunk of the punting happened in garbage time when the coverage teams may have had more reserves playing.
Kickoffs (8.5 kickoffs/game, most in FBS)
98th Kickoff Average 59.6 yards/kickoff
118th Touchback Percentage at 12.75%
62nd Opponent Kickoff Returns 21 yards/return
If the punting game was better than the numbers suggest, the kickoff game may have been worse. Combine short kicks, big returns, and few touchbacks and you have a recepie for great opponent field position after each Oregon score. But hey, Oregon probably doesn't kick it off that much, right?
While following the Ducks this year, I heard or read several times that Oregon was a good team in "all three phases". I know that's just boilerplate sports-speak, a generic way of complementing any team that's not especially imbalanced. We've learned this year that it's emphatically untrue.
Oregon was horrible across the board on special teams. Mind you, I'm not complaining. All teams have their strengths and weaknesses. This team certainly has its strengths. At its peak this season, before cumulative injuries became a major problem, the Ducks were probably the best team in the country judged by a combination of offense and defense. But at the same time, the Ducks were arguably the nation's worst in special teams. Maybe I'm overstating it; playing in a AQ conference full of good returners and decent coverage teams may have served to make the Ducks look worse than they actually were. But very few other teams had poor numbers in so many different aspects of special teams (maybe Syracuse's terrible return numbers make it close).
One of the things that's odd about Oregon's poor special teams performance is that it wasn't totally incompetent, just consistently crummy. We didn't get kicks or punts blocked. The long snapping wasn't great but it wasn't disastrous. There wasn't a ton of botched holds, muffed catches, or badly blown return coverage. We brought back a lot of talented special teams players, including all the specialists. Without some major problems like the ones above, what are the chances that every aspect of special teams would decline from last year?
This suggests a set of questions. Why were special teams so bad this season? There may be a simple answer, or it may be a combination of many things. Is there any unifying cause that may explain why so many different aspects of special teams struggled? Maybe some product of the way they're coached? Can we expect them to be better next year? What do you think?