Stevie B. (Steve Breaston) tried to do too much and ended up doing nothing, Zoltan the Inconceivable began his march to the Heisman, Ross Ryan had a modicum of difficulty with the new lower kicking tee and Garrett Rivas hit a career long field goal (48 yards) and had a kick blocked in the same game. There was a whole lot going on in the Michigan special teams units during the Vanderbilt game.
Coming into this season, the 5th-year senior is Michigan's all-time leading punt returner and #2 all-time kickoff returner. As I wrote in my post of July 1, 2006, I think he is a threat to score every time he takes the field. However, after watching his performance against Vanderbilt, I get the strong feeling that he may be trying to do too much. His special teams stat line for the game was 3 punt returns for a total of 7 yards and 1 kickoff return for 16 yards. Watching him on Saturday I kept getting the feeling that he wanted to take off before the ball even got to him as if he was anxious to make something happen. As you can see from his stats nothing happened. After witnessing a couple adventurous punt catches I found myself just hoping he would stay in position long enough to field the ball cleanly. He will come around and I hope he does not put too much pressure on himself to score everytime he makes a return.
Punter Zoltan "The Inconceivable" Mesko began his march to the Heisman (according to Brian at MGoBlog) with an impressive 3 punt performance that went for an average of 41.7 yards per kick. His three punts went for 45 yards, 35 yards and 45 yards and the first two punts were downed without a return. Zoltan is a lefty and has a lot of hang-time as well as distance on his punts. One thing to watch for in future games, however, is how fast Zoltan gets the punt away. Although Vanderbilt never came close to pressuring one of Zoltan's magnificent kicks it seemed to my untrained eye that he was a little slow in getting the kicks away. It would be interesting to time him as I believe his delivery is a little bit deliberate which might make him susceptible to blocks down the road in the face of a "jailbreak rush."
The new lower kicking tee had a more pronounced effect than I anticipated. Last season, Ross Ryan boomed 40 of his 69 kickoffs for touchbacks. Using the new 1" tee against Vanderbilt, Ryan was only able to hit 1 of 6 kickoffs for a touchback. The new tee seems to be costing kickers approximately 10-12 yards in distance. This is going to put a premium on kickoff coverage this season as Ryan will not just be able to boom the ball to the endzone with any regularity. For the Vanderbilt game, Ryan officially hit his 6 kickoffs for 355 yards for a 59.2 yard average with 1 touchback. For those who are wondering, college kickers tee off from their own 35-yard line meaning they have to hit it 65 yards to get it to the opponent's endzone.
In an effort that drives Michigan fans mad, field goal kicker Rivas went 2-3 including a career long field goal and a blocked field goal attempt. Rivas hit a 48-yarder in the second quarter which topped his career best of 47-yards which he had done 4 times as a Wolverine. That make helped salve the wounds of the faithful who were upset about the 42-yarder that was blocked earlier that quarter. As I noted in a post on July 5, 2006, Rivas did not make a field goal of 40 or more yards in the last 5 games of the 2005 season. Thus, I was quite glad to see him hit a 48-yarder in game 1 of the 2006 season. I do not think the fans should get too down on him for the blocked kick. As I noted in my post in July, Rivas will not make every kick but he is a very good kicker and the fans should be trying to boost his confidence so that he will be a strong asset to the 2006 team.