USA TODAY US Edition
Michigan not just lucky in blocking four kicks vs. UCF
The texts popped up on Chris Wormley’s phone, one after another. His friends wanted to know the same thing: Did he need to ice his fingers?
After he’d blocked two field goal attempts in Michigan’s win against Central Florida, it seemed like a valid question. Or, at the very least, quite thoughtful.
“I have gloves on, and then I think it’s just being in the moment, not really worrying about (if it’ll hurt),” Wormley told USA TODAY Sports, laughing. “You don’t think about it, especially because your adrenaline’s going. You just blocked a kick. You’re super excited. None of that. It doesn’t hurt. Maybe if it was 20 degrees and the ball was a little harder and my hands were numb ... but it was a nice day in Ann Arbor.”
Of course it didn’t hurt, not the first time on UCF’s 50-yard field goal attempt in the first quarter. Or the second time, which was not as clean a block but certainly one that affected UCF’s 49-yarder that missed in the second quarter.
Couple that with two blocked punts, also in the first half, and it was about as dominant a showing as a special-teams unit can have in a college football game.
“I have never been part of something like that,” specialteams coach Chris Partridge said. “I have not been part of that at all. It’s funny because — and I talk to the guys about positive discontent — there was so much more that could have even been done. In reality, there was not much to nitpick.”
Blocking punts is one thing; a punt-return team can practice different schemes and try sending different variations of players at the kicker to try to block a kick. Coaches can analyze the angle of an opposing punter’s foot, how he’s kicking it and how to send players at the ball. They have to figure out play calls that allow the unit to send multiple guys to block but also prevent against a fake. And they can determine when to go for a block vs. when to set up a strong blocking scheme for a dynamic punt returner, such as Jabrill Peppers.
To block a punt, the goal is to get your hands on the ball, aiming for it right off the punter’s foot. Tyree Kinnel, who affected two punts Saturday, said Michigan only got a hand on the ball once in the 2015 season. He blocked one punt with his hand and the other with perhaps a fingertip.
Punts are different than field goal attempts, certainly, but at least they’re easier to practice and plan out.
“Blocking field goals in practice is actually kind of difficult, because you don’t want to bang up against your starting offensive lineman each and every practice,” said Wormley, a fifth-year senior defensive lineman for No. 5 Michigan, which plays Colorado on Saturday. “Watching film and then seeing how the opponent’s offensive line blocks or different little tendencies and stuff like that helps out a lot, but to actually practice with it and go full goal is pretty difficult throughout the week.”
In trying to block a field goal attempt, Partridge said, “(It’s) three steps, and then you’ve got to get up.
“But what you’ve got to realize is there’s only a certain area that your hands can go up that you’ll block it. You don’t want to throw your hands up, for instance, on the left side if the ball is on the offense right hash, because that ball’s going to be missed anyway. We kind of talk about the junction point of where the ball’s going to go through the uprights, and that’s where we want to kind of make our block point up the middle and get their hands up.
“We tell them, ‘You have three steps; you’ve got to fire out as low as you can as hard as you can for three steps, and then you get your hands up and eyes on the ball. But it has to be at the junction point of when it’s going to go through the uprights.’ ”
For example, when Wormley blocked his second field goal attempt, he came across the center, from the other side of the field, to get his hands up in the right spot.
“It’s actually pretty cool, because a football is being kicked close to your face or close to your body — if you think about it, it’s pretty scary,” Wormley said. “But it happens so fast that you just get your hands up and try and drive as hard as you can to get at a good angle. It’s a cool feeling knowing that you stopped them on third down and then you have a chance to block and when you actually do block it, because it rarely ever happens. You might get one or two blocks a season, so to get two in a game is pretty cool.
“Our defensive line coach, Coach (Greg) Mattison, always preaches that you can measure how good of a defensive line you have by the blocked kicks you get and with the pride that you take on field goals. Most times, defensive lines will take that play off because they think it’s just a gimme that they’re not going to block the kick and the ball can be up in the air faster than they can get there and block it.
“Our defensive line takes great pride in attempting to block each and every kick, whether it’s a 10yarder or a 50-yarder.”