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2022 Position Postmortem: Specialists

A review of the specialist performance for the 2022 season.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 12 Missouri at Tennessee Photo by Bryan Lynn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With the 2022 season officially over, it’s time to break down the performance of the team position by position. We’ll look at the stats for the year, the departing players, new additions, and some predictions for what we’ll see in 2023.

Missouri’s 2022 special teams were easily the worst product that the group had put out under Eli Drinkwitz but were still Top 40 in the country. Can a slimmer Thiccer and Aussie punter bring the Tigers back to the Top 10 promised land?

There’s a theory posited by Bud Elliott - formerly of SB Nation, currently of 247 - that having good luck in close football games comes down to three things: clock management, quarterback play, and special teams. In 2020 the clock management was - fine? - but with a quarterback who didn’t make many mistakes and a Top 25 special teams unit, the Tigers were able to go 3-0 in one-score games. In 2021 the clock management was again passable and the special teams play was the 11th-best in the country, but the quarterback play was more mistake-prone, and subsequently, Missouri went 2-3 in one-score games.

And in 2022? Special teams gaffes directly cost Mizzou two wins and the Tigers went 2-4 in one-score games. In a season where they went 6-7.

I’m not saying elite special teams will always deliver two extra wins per season but Missouri’s special teams ranking tumbled from 11th to 38th while the offense fell apart and they still were in a bunch of games they could have won.

The Departed

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 13 South Carolina at Missouri Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Sean Koetting has been Missouri’s kickoff specialist extraordinaire over his six-year tenure in black and gold, knocking over 87% of his career kickoffs out of bounds. Do you want to know why Mizzou was the #1 kick return defense unit in the country in 2022? It’s because Koetting only had four total kickoffs not land out of the back of the end zone. That’s not an impossible skill to find but it is one that needs to be utilized to keep up the streak of Tiger opponents not returning a kickoff for a touchdown.

Jake Hoffman was Missouri’s long snapper for punts. The best thing you can say about Jake is that you never noticed him. How is that good? Well, the only way you know your long snapper’s name is if he’s spraying snaps all over the field and...well, he never did. Experienced hands at this position are vital and Missouri lost a good one to graduation.

Jack Stonehouse took over punting responsibilities from Koetting a fourth of the way into the ‘22 campaign and did a decent job in his lone season as punter. His 42.3 average yards per punt was ok, as was his 31.9% inside-the-20 rate. But he was a noticeable upgrade from Koetting and Stonehouse’s transfer to Syracuse came as a bit of a surprise for the California freshman.

Daniel Hawthorne was the Tigers’ long snapper on extra points and field goals, representing a third of jobs for successful points made with by kicking the ball. A good snap and good hold are necessary if you want a good kick and Hawthorne was incredibly reliable in his role. Unfortunately he decided to hit the transfer portal, leaving two freshmen to man the position.

The Returners

Kentucky v Missouri Photo by Jay Biggerstaff/Getty Images
Harrison Mevis Stats

The lone returner for the special teams unit is the one guy you know the best.

Harrison Mevis. The Thiccer Kicker. He of the phrase “advantage me”, the victorious post field goal salute, the delicious heart-attacking monstrosity “Thiccer Burger”, and this god-tier gif:

We love our Thicc boy. We can also acknowledge that he did not have a very good year last year (to his standards, anyway). He missed four field goals under 40 yards - when he had combined to miss one in his previous two years - and also missed two field goals over 40 yards. He’s still perfect on extra points but Jolly Old Saint Kick seemed to show some mortality in his third year on campus. Granted, he still has a career-make percentage of 84.7% on all field goals and scores on 93.6% of all kicks he attempts, but last year’s 77% accuracy on field goals certainly left Mizzou fans shocked and a tad concerned.

As far as those who returned balls kicked into the air, Luther Burden III, Kris Abrams-Draine, Nathaniel Peat, and Tavorus Jones all had at least one return (so did Elijah Young, but...ya know...he’s gone) but Burden was the only one who had a touchdown. In fact, for the year, there were only 12 punt returns (all by Burden) and 14 kick returns (6 by KAD, 6 by Peat, 1 by Jones, 1 by Young) and...good news, Burden had a tremendous 12.6 yard average in punt returns! However, every kick returner had terrible averages, some of the worst in the country, in fact. Definitely an area for improvement!

The Transfers

Riley Williams Stats

With no punters left on the roster, Mizzou hit the transfer portal and brought up Towson punter Riley Williams. A former Australian football player processed through Australia’s legendary Prokick Academy, Williams managed a 44.7 yard average on his 46 punts last year and managed to down 28.3% of them inside the 20. It’s slightly more yards and slightly fewer inside the 20 than Stonehouse but it’s certainly better than nothing. It was also Williams’ first year as starting punter, so hopefully there’s some growth and improvement he experiences in Columbia.

The Freshman

Courier Tribune

2022 stats: 79 kickoffs, 56.8 average, 67 TBs/50-52 PATs, 17-24 FGs

Blake Craig is a kicker, and a pretty good one at that. At Liberty North High School he managed an 80% field goal accuracy while making the fifth- (56) and seventh-longest (53) field goals in Missouri state high school football history. He also managed a 56 yard average on his kickoffs! High school kickers are typically less reliable than college kickers and Craig managed numbers comparable to your typical college-level specialist. I’d anticipate Craig getting some looks as a kick off guy unless Mevis somehow regresses even further.

2023 Forecasting

  • Prediction: Thiccer and Williams are your starting foot people with Craig as the kickoff guy. Peat and KAD split kick return duties, Burden is back at punt returner.
  • Bold Prediction: Missouri has both a kick return and a punt return for a touchdown
  • HOT TAKE: Thiccer doesn’t miss a kick all year. Burden has five punt return touchdowns. KAD pulls a Deion Sanders and becomes just as dynamic a kick returner as he is a cornerback.