Fresno State has not had a punt blocked over the past season and three games, with special teams coordinator Jamie Christian employing shield punt schemes.
Blake Cusick, meanwhile, has become one of if not the most valuable punter in the Mountain West, this season dropping nine of his 12 kicks inside an opponent’s 20-yard line, the most in the conference and by far the highest percentage.
Still, that may be where trouble lurks on Saturday night against Toledo.
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The Rockets present headaches all over the field, including two blocked punts – both were returned for touchdowns.
The first, against VMI, came with the Keydets in a tight punt formation. Toledo attacked the center of the VMI line, creating a gap for wideout Cody Thompson to race through untouched. He practically took the ball off the foot of the punter and into the end zone.
The second, against Nevada, came with the Wolf Pack in a shield formation. There was a poor snap on the play and the Wolf Pack had a complete meltdown on their blocks both at the line of scrimmage and at the shield, allowing wideout Desmond Phillips to race in and get the kick. It was picked up and taken into the end zone by tight end Reggie Gilliam.
“You’ve seen some of our really good players playing on our special teams units and doing a really good job,” Toledo coach Jason Candle said during his weekly news conference.
“Coach (Robby) Discher does an unbelievable job of putting a scheme together each week to give those guys a chance to be successful.”
The coaches can draw smart X’s and O’s, but “it’s all about execution,” Fresno State’s Christian said. “They have their scheme. We have our scheme and we hope that we can handle anything they bring at us. We have options on how we want to protect, but what it all boils down to, it boils down to the one-on-one: ‘That’s my guy. I have to block him. I have to take pride in blocking it.’
“Then we have to get the operations times the way they’re supposed to be and then get the ball off. If we do that, then we should be OK. But we definitely have to be locked into what they’re doing. They like to bring pressure. We’ve practiced it, but there’s a difference between practice and getting out there and doing it live. You have to be ready to roll.”
Fresno State with its punt team deploys seven players at the line of scrimmage, three to the right and three to the left of long snapper Jacob Westberry. The Bulldogs use linebackers and defensive backs. The shield in front of Cusick is made up of bigger bodies, offensive and defensive linemen..
“Toledo is real good on special teams,” Christian said. “We definitely have to step our game up in all six phases of special teams, be ready for pressure, be ready for their return man, both kickoff return and punt return. We have to protect on punt cover. We have to cover kicks and then we have to get better and get stuff going in our return game.
“We definitely have to being our ‘A’ game this week on special teams.”