Fresno State senior punter Garrett Swanson executes a fake punt and runs for a first down during the Bulldogs’ Oct. 16 victory over UNLV at Bulldog Stadium. (Darlene Wendels/The Collegian)
“Game changers” is the mantra that the Fresno State special teams unit has developed as its theme for this season.
So far this season, the special teams have been arguably the team’s most consistent group with senior punter Garrett Swanson leading the way. Swanson ranks sixth in the Mountain West Conference in average per punt at 42.6 yards. The punt unit as a whole is also sixth in the conference in net punting average, the total yards that a punt gains for a certain team after the return is factored in.
“It doesn’t surprise [me], he’s one of the hardest working kids I’ve been around regardless what position he plays,” special teams coordinator Pete Germano said. “He’s a talent, overall he’s been really dependable this season.”
Germano’s unit has developed more and more as the season has gone on. The Bulldogs incorporated a new feature to their repertoire with a little trickery in last week’s win over UNLV.
On 4th-and-10 early in the second quarter Friday night, the ‘Dogs set up to punt and executed their normal punt formation jobs. Swanson got the ball and was ready to boot it downfield but he saw green in front of him.
“It was a run-punt option, we were rugbying the football,” Germano said. “They didn’t line up correctly, they were short and he saw that and took off.”
Deciding to run the ball, Swanson ended up gaining 21 yards into UNLV territory, setting up a key opportunity for the ‘Dogs to take the lead.
Swanson and the punt team did their job, setting the table for the offense to put points on the board. But the team would not end up scoring on the drive after sophomore Kody Kroening missed a 23-yard field goal, one of two field goals the ‘Dogs would miss that night.
One key element to the special teams that has been struggling so far this season, creating a lot of questions, has been the field goal kicking. Through seven games, Fresno State ranks eigth in the Mountain West with a 62.5 percentage of field goals made, making only five-of-eight attempted.
“We’ve got to develop consistency, it was a mechanics thing,” Germano said. “We pushed it on the right hash, the right hash has been a problem so we’re going to try to focus more and put the ball on the right hash.”
Following a pair of missed field goals Friday against the Rebels, the one by Kroening in the second quarter and another by sophomore Jimmy Camacho in the fourth, questions remain on who will be the kicker from here on out. Kroening was the team’s kicker last year and was able to convert on nine-of-14 attempts. The two-man system had been what worked early on in the season for the ‘Dogs and that is the hopes for the unit going forward.
The Bulldog special teams unit will face another tough test Saturday when the team travels to Colorado to take on Air Force.
The Falcons currently rank first in the Mountain West with an 18.3-yard per return average through their first six games this season. They are one of only three teams in the conference to have a punt return touchdown this season – a 75-yard return that came back in Week 1 in their victory over Morgan State.
“They’re well coached, they’re simple and the whole team is well coached and work their butts off,” Germano said.
The special teams unit will look to attack one of their goals come Saturday. The unit as a whole said they were going to score four times this season but have yet to do so thus far.
“We’ve got to continue to be game changers and put a consistent couple of games in a row together,” Germano said.