Central Florida will test Wolfpack special teams
NC State special teams were a success against Western Carolina, but special teams coordinator Jerry Petercuskie wants to see more, especially from fifth-year senior kicker Josh Czajkowski on kickoffs.
Czajkowski averaged a respectable 63.6 yards per kickoff against WCU, and his first kick reached the goal line. Last year Czajkowski did not have a single touchback while averaging 58.3 yards per kickoff. Petercuskie though was more concerned about Czajkowski's hang time on the first kickoff.
"Josh did okay," Petercuskie noted. "The first kick was 3.54 and he's better than that. All we're looking for is to get it to the 5-yard line with a 3.9 hang time, and if the coverage is right we'll be okay."
The coverage Saturday on kickoffs were excellent however. Boosted by a trio of true freshmen defensive backs - David Amerson, D.J. Green and Dontae Johnson - WCU did not have a kickoff return longer than 20 yards. Petercuskie believes that the rookies have added a lot to his special team units.
"They can all run pretty good," Petercuskie said. "They're very coachable guys. They are students of the game, and they're tough kids, all three of them. David, D.J., and Dontae are all tough guys and they're all students of the game, so that adds to their athleticism. It's one thing to be athletic, it's another I think to understand what's going on when you're running down there."
Fifth-year senior punter Jeff Ruiz had two punts on the evening, one of which was muffed for a crucial early turnover by WCU, and the other which Petercuskie termed a "pretty dang good kick."
"The first punt he didn't hit that really well, and Nate [Irving] was really great in the coverage on it, forced that fumble and [Taylor] Gentry was right there to pick it up," Petercuskie stated. "The second he did what we expected him to do, hang it up about 43 yards and hang it up about 4.7."
Capping off the strong special teams performance was a 50-yard kickoff return by junior receiver T.J. Graham to start the second half.
Special teams will need to be even better Saturday at Central Florida. The Knights have a strong kick returner in sophomore receiver Quincy McDuffie, and junior kicker Nick Cattoi is a 6-foot-5, 210-pounder with a strong leg.
"They're very good, in fact in all the years, it's been about 25 years since I've seen such a discrepancy in their return game and their coverage," Petercuskie noted. "I think it was 13 yards a punt return and only giving up 2.8 and on kick returns 25 yards and only giving up about 19. You don't see that very often. That ranked them in the country. I think they were 10th in kickoff coverage and first in Conference USA and 13th in kickoff returns. Coach [George] O'Leary is that way. He wins with defense and wins with special teams.
"Their kicker has an excellent leg. He's a 6-foot-5 kid. He puts it down there. He hangs it up 4.0 and gets it to the five or end zone, and if there is any wind it's going to be a touchback."