One area that shouldn’t be overlooked in the 24-7 win over Northwestern was the play of special teams. The Wildcats were produced zero yards in the return game. Rutgers had just one return yard and fumbled late on a punt return. However, the specialists for the Scarlet Knights had a generally strong games on Sunday.
Kickoff specialist Jude McAtamney sent all five attempts into the back of the end zone for touchbacks. Despite losing his place kicking job after making just 12 of 18 attempts last season, the Irishman deserves credit for a solid performance in the season opener.
It was a strong debut performance for punter Flynn Appleby, who pinned Northwestern inside the 20 yard line on four of five punts. He averaged 39.4 yards per punt and looked comfortable replacing fellow Aussie and reigning Ray Guy Award winner Adam Korsak. His ability to be steady and ultimately limit mistakes are the key to his success this season.
New place kicker Jai Patel was 1 of 2 on field goal attempts. He made a 32 yard attempts but hit the right post on a 38 yard field goal attempt. Even so, it’s good Patel got real playing experience and the staff is really high on his potential.
In addition, true freshman long snapper Jake Eldridge started and was solid with zero mistakes.
Schiano spoke at length about the specialists after the game.
“I think the kicking game had a big part to do with that as well,” explained Schiano. “We broke in three brand new starters in the kicking game, and one guy came back and kicked good kickoffs, talking about Jude. Every one of those was bombs, right. That’s what we’re looking for. That’s good stuff. Flynn Appleby, his first game as a starter, and I thought he did really a very, very solid job. Jai Patel, again, solid, solid job, a lot to improve on. And then Jake, snapping the ball.
He continued, “So infuse three new starters as your specialists and to be able to play a clean game on special teams, that was real important. So I think that has part of the time possession. You know, being able to use those kicking plays to kind of mold the game the way you want to mold it. Some good stuff there.”
If Appleby can be consistently good this season rather than all-time great like Adam Korsak, his value will be high. If McAtamney can continue to blast kickoffs to the back of end zone, he’ll be a weapon. As for Patel, the one miss doesn’t make or break his career. He needs experience in game situations this season but the staff loves his potential.
On a day where much went right for Rutgers football, it was a positive sign to see special teams get off to a good start. They’ll play a key role moving forward this fall.
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