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October 22, 2010
Midseason report: Special teams
By far this unit has been the most inconsistent. There have been positive moments. NC State has blocked three punts, two of which were recovered for touchdowns. NC State had four blocked kicks during O'Brien's first three years combined.
Other than a misstep against Georgia Tech and a missed field goal at ECU, fifth-year senior placekicker Josh Czajkowski has been very solid. He has made 12 of 15 field goals, with a long of 44 yards. He has made all three attempts beyond 40 yards.
Czajkowski's kickoffs have also been noticeably improved. He is averaging 63.1 yards per kickoff with four touchbacks. Last year Czajkowski averaged 58.3 yards on his kickoffs, and NC State was the lone team in the ACC not to have a touchback. The Pack struggled so much on kickoffs that they signed junior college kicker Billy Bennett just for that duty. Bennett though decided over the summer not to enroll at NC State, and ironically that decision allowed Czajkowski to show off his stronger kickoff form.
Punting has been mixed but improved after State changed punters from fifth year senior Jeff Ruiz to walk-on junior Andy Leffler, a transfer from Elon. Ruiz was averaging just 33.9 yards per punt on his first 16 kicks. Leffler replaced him against Georgia Tech, and he averaged 40.4 yards on 16 kicks, but he struggled with hang time against ECU and was benched in the game in favor of Ruiz.
Where NC State has struggled the most is in the return games. Junior receiver T.J. Graham had shined as State's kick returner, but that has not been the case in 2010. Graham is averaging just 18.9 yards per kickoff return and 5.0 yards per punt return. He is now competing with sophomore tailback James Washington for kickoff return duties. Washington returned five kicks against ECU for an average of 22.0 yards.
NC State has also allowed two kickoff returns for touchdowns. Central Florida's Quincy McDuffie had a 93-yard scamper for a score just after NC State had opened up a 21-0 second quarter lead on the Knights, helping keep Central Florida in the game. Virginia Tech's David Wilson ran a kickback 92 yards for a touchdown to open the second half and cut State's lead to 17-14.
Grading the special teams: NC State has made big plays with the blocked punts, and the kicking games have been good enough, but the return and coverage units need to be get better for the second half of the year. Grade: C-
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