Crimson Tide Breakdown: A look at Alabama’s special teams ahead of the SEC championship game
Thanks to Alabama’s average of 49 points a game, kicker Joseph Bulovas on the enjoyed plenty of opportunities throughout the regular season. But the opportunities don’t always amount to success for the kicking unit.
When Alabama faced Arkansas on Oct. 6, the Crimson Tide missed their fourth extra point of the season. At the time, they were tied for second-worst in the country.
The flaws on the kicking team haven’t affected the outcome of a game during the regular season because of the pure dominance of the offense and the defense. It hasn’t made a difference yet, but the potential to matter could come in the matchup against Georgia on Saturday.
The punt return and kickoff return units have recorded success, especially from members like Josh Jacobs and Jaylen Waddle. The ability of these units has placed the Alabama offense in strong field positions throughout the season, while also adding points to the scoreboard on occasion.
Here’s a closer look at how the Crimson Tide special teams’ unit added to their dominance of any opponent this season:
Bulovas has been the man for the job on kickoffs since the beginning of the 2018 season, and he took over the role of placekicking halfway through Alabama’s second game against Arkansas State.
He made almost 93 percent of his PATs, making 63 of 68, and went 12-for-16, or 75 percent, on field goals. He has scored 99 points, averaging 8.25 per game, which is good enough to be ranked fifth in the SEC.
In kickoffs, Bulovas has totaled 5,790 yards, with 41 of his kickoffs resulting in a touchback. His ability to put the ball in the end zone has allowed Alabama to keep its opponents from earning a better field position or running the ball back for a touchdown.
The Crimson Tide includes a backup at kicker with senior Austin Jones. Jones started the season as the placekicker, but has only played in two games since—Arkansas State and Citadel. He went 1-for-2 in field goals, and eight PATs to record 11 points for the season.
Alabama’s punting game has not always been a concern in recent years, but this year was a little different. Two punters, freshman Skyler DeLong and senior Mike Bernier, have both filled the role at punter throughout the 2018 season.
DeLong struggled early on in the season. He won the starting position for the first four games and recorded punts in five games total this season. He has 16 punts for 551 yards, averaging 34.4 yards a punt.
Senior Mike Bernier took over as starting punter when the Crimson Tide played Tennessee on Oct. 20, and he has held the role since. He has 16 punts for 594 yards, averaging 37.1 yards a punt. His longest punt was 48 yards.
Bernier recorded one touchback, seven fair catches, four punts inside the 20-yard line and one blocked kick.
Kickoff and punt returners
Alabama’s kick and punt returners have been dominant in the return game.
Jacobs is one of the top members on the kickoff return unit. When the Crimson Tide faced Georgia in the national championship last year, Jacobs had two kickoff returns for a combined 42 yards.
He returns to Atlanta with another season under his belt. Jacobs returned 13 kickoffs for 398 yards and one touchdown during the regular season. He recorded the longest kickoff return this season against Louisville on Sept. 1, which was 77 yards.
Waddle is another key member of the punt return unit. Waddle recorded the longest punt return this season for 63 yards against Louisiana on Sept. 29. He totaled 15 punt returns during the regular season for 190 yards and one touchdown.
The ability to return the ball both on kickoff and punt returns will play a key role in the matchup against Georgia. Jacobs and Waddle may be instrumental in their roles when facing the Bulldogs in these situations.