Fresno State went about improving its kickoff coverage in practice Tuesday by opening up competition where it starts, with kicker Colin McGuire and punter Garrett Swanson.
McGuire, the freshman, has handled all of the Bulldogs' kickoffs this season and nagged by a hit of a hip flexor strain, has not been able to drive the ball well the past two weeks. He has 12 touchbacks on 53 kickoffs (22.6%), but none in the past two games against UNLV and at San Diego State.
And the Rebels and Aztecs have been able to take advantage, starting eight of 12 drives following a kickoff at or outside the 30-yard line or farther and five outside the 40.
"They're going to be competing for that," coach Tim DeRuyter said. "Colin has had a bit of a hip flexor strain and he's lost a little bit of strength there and Garrett has really been knocking the ball well as a punter. Sometimes that can throw you off, but we're going to let him compete this week."
Swanson handled kickoff duties last season and had 25 touchbacks on 88 kickoffs (28.4%, averaging 61.5 yards. McGuire has averaged 55.9 yards on his kicks this season.
But it is not so much distance, but hang time and the placement of the kickoffs that have been issues. They were out early inside Bulldog Stadium, working on getting their kicks between the numbers on the field and the sideline, rather than between the numbers where an opposing return man has more field and options to set up a long return.
Fresno State is allowing 26.3 yards per return, ranking 117th of 123 teams in the bowl subdivision.
There is some concern whether the different swing at the ball on kickoff will have an impact on Swanson when he is punting -- he is averaging 42.7 yards on 35 punts, ranking fourth in the Mountain West Conference and 27th in the bowl subdivision.
But the Bulldogs need to find an answer to their kickoff and kickoff coverage deficiencies.
"There are teams where guys do both and we'll see, we'll see if it's hindering one or the other," DeRuyter said. "In an ideal world it doesn't and you have guys competing for the kickoff job."
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