Ace Sanders is on his way to history.
The South Carolina junior wide receiver is second in the SEC in punt return average and needs 50 more yards to set the Gamecocks single-season record. He has scored one touchdown, a back-breaker against Georgia, and energized his club several other times with long returns.
None of that is enough to make Steve Spurrier happy about his overall special teams performance because for every sparkling play by Sanders, theres a shanked punt or an opposing kickoff returner racing to midfield.
Last weeks loss to LSU was a microcosm of South Carolinas special teams season. The good: Sanders had a 50-yard punt return. The bad: South Carolinas Tyler Hull averaged 37 yards per punt, and LSUs Michael Ford returned two kickoffs 59 yards.
Kickoff coverage was irritating, Spurrier said. Guys ran down there, we were in position to make plays. Again, we lost contain, just like we did against Arkansas last year when it was 30-28, I think, and we let the guy go around the left end and let him return it all the way to the 50. The other night, same thing happened; went around the left end, guy didnt contain, and let him go. That was frustrating.
Just go tackle the guy.
Sanders is as frustrated as his coach that his teammates cant seem to contain kickoff returns.
The guys come out here and work so hard and to see them come out in the game and everything they work for during the week just go to waste, he said. We just try to motivate them (by saying), You come out here and you bust tail all week. Why get to the game and mess up assignments? They just have to work on the little stuff.
The Gamecocks are ninth in the SEC in kickoff coverage and 12th in net punting. Their opponents average starting field position is that teams 29-yard line. Only four teams in the 14-team league allow their foes to start closer to the end zone.
Another problem with South Carolinas kickoffs is the kicks themselves. Senior Adams Yates has put four kickoffs out of bounds, giving opponents the ball at the 35-yard line.
He may lead the nation in out-of-bounds kickoffs, Spurrier said. Hes got to. He cant keep it in the ball park all the time.
Yates has the ability to kick the ball deep into the end zone, but thats not always enough to ensure a touchback. LSUs Ford took one out from 7 yards deep into the end zone last week and returned it past the 25-yard line. Yates also handles field goals for the Gamecocks, although there havent been many of those. South Carolina has attempted five field goals this season, the fewest number in the SEC, and Yates is 3-of-5 with misses from 36 and 33 yards.
Weve only tried five field goals, and hes kicked two low balls out of five, Spurrier said. Sort of makes you nervous if you have to kick a field goal to win the game.
Pretty much everything about South Carolinas special teams other than Sanders is making the coach nervous these days.