USA TODAY US Edition

Michi­gan not just lucky in block­ing four kicks vs. UCF

- Ni­cole Auer­bach @Ni­coleAuer­bach USA TO­DAY Sports

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.”

 ?? RICK OSENTOSKI, USA TO­DAY SPORTS ?? Michi­gan de­fen­sive end Chris Worm­ley (43) blocks a field goal at­tempt by Cen­tral Florida’s Matthew Wright on Satur­day.
RICK OSENTOSKI, USA TO­DAY SPORTS Michi­gan de­fen­sive end Chris Worm­ley (43) blocks a field goal at­tempt by Cen­tral Florida’s Matthew Wright on Satur­day.

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