Searching for big plays on special teams

Florida kicker Evan McPherson and punter/holder Tommy Townsend (43) were among the best last season. [Cyndi Chambers/Correspondent]

College football programs traditionally show significant improvement from year one to year two under a new coaching staff.

If that happens at Florida under coach Dan Mullen, the Gators could be College Football Playoff contenders next season after going 10-3 and rising into the top 10 in the nation in 2018.

For it to happen, the Gators will have to improve in some areas and some new, inexperienced players are going to have to come through at certain positions.

The Sun is breaking down the team position-by-position, one position at a time. This is the final one:

Special teams

Who’s gone: Long snapper Ryan Farr. Usually, losing a long snapper is not considered that big of a deal. But in this case it is. Farr has to go down as one of the best long snapper’s in school history, a four-year starter who snapped for punts, field goals and extra points in 51 consecutive games. So, Farr is a big loss.

Who’s back: Everybody else — the kickers (punter Tommy Townsend and place-kicker Evan McPherson), the holder (Townsend) and the return men (Freddie Swain, Kadarius Toney, Van Jefferson and Tyrie Cleveland).

UF’s kicking aspect of special teams is good, potentially among the best in college football.

Last season, McPherson, a true freshman, was a model of consistency, making 17 of 19 field goal attempts and going 50-for-50 on extra points.

While McPherson was scoring lots of points for the Gators, Townsend was consistently flipping field position with his powerful right leg. He averaged 45.39 yards per punt.

The Gators have a lot of potential playmaking ability in the return game, but the only big plays last season were an 85-yard punt return by Swain and a 51-yard kickoff return by Toney.

Who’s new: There’s going to be a new long snapper, either senior Jacob Tilghman or sophomore Brett DioGuardi. Tilghman snapped in three games this past season, so he has the edge in experience over DioGuardi, who has yet to see the field.

In the return game, redshirt freshman wide receiver Jacob Copeland is going to have a chance to return kickoffs and possibly punts. In high school, he was an explosive runner in the open field, so that’s where the Gators will try to put him on special teams.

What’s next: The Gators will be looking to find a consistent long snapper this spring to replace Farr. They’ll also be looking to make more big plays happen in the kicking game.

UF returned only one kick, a punt return by Swain, for a touchdown. And the Gators blocked only two kicks all season after that aspect had been stressed throughout camp and fall practices.

Possible scenario: Townsend and McPherson continue to do their thing, the Gators settle on a reliable long snapper and UF finds a way to create more explosive plays in the return game, where they seem to have plenty of playmaking ability with Toney, Swain, Jefferson and Copeland.


  1. Special teams were special last year and gave us an edge on O and D.
    Copeland with his juke- ability should be a natural at kick-offs and punt returns.
    Let’s aim for 10% improvement in every phase of Special Teams in 2019. This could get us to Atlanta.

  2. let repeat all of this for the umpteenth time: 1. mcpherson was 18 of 19, the refs missed one against kentucky. 2. ls is worth nfl money to someone, we should have a bunch of guys wanting that slot, not just 2. oh well the coaches know their stuff so i will shut up. 3. i do love seeing kirby smart and now nick saban try to outcall cdm on special teams, and look like fools doing it! 4. this is a great area for this team, hopefully we will have enough depth this year to be even better, if not, then next year we will for sure.

  3. The special teams started hot with successful blocked kicks and fake punts, but seemed to cool as the season went on, and there is plenty to be addressed. In particular, Townsend, as well as he kicked, lost it one game and speared a defenseless player in the head, then was lucky not to get called for another personal foul. In addition, we had two punts blocked, which can’t happen. We also seemed to lose our edge on terms of making big plays on special teams as the season wore on, so think this unit has a lot of room for improvement next year!

  4. In my view, McPherson was a BIG DEAL this year, with consistency that provided Dan decision making assistance. We all can remember over the last +20 years we worried about making extra points and FGs for entire seasons. He and Townsend have not received the love they deserve for this season’s success. No having to worry about quality kicking is nice!

  5. Townsend and McPherson were both top notch all season. But you can’t have big plays on special teams if you fair catch everything that’s kicked. With Toney back there you can try cross field passes or reverses on punt returns. And why no one ever tries it I’ll never know, but on kickoffs how about putting your fastest receivers out there and trying occasionally to bloop it in between the first and second lines of the receiving team about 20-25 yds downfield and take a shot at a lucky bounce. If the Gators recover they have great field position and if not they’re not that much worse off than if they just kicked away and the coverage is right there.