Inside the shell: Special teams

Dec. 27, 2014, 11:22 p.m.

This is the fourth and final installment of The Stanford Daily’s preview series on the Maryland Terrapins, who will face Stanford in the Foster Farms Bowl at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara on Dec. 30. Today’s piece will focus on special teams. Part one looked at Maryland’s season as a whole, part two looked at the offense and part three looked at the defense.

The kicking and the coverage

2014 Maryland specialists
Brad Craddock (Jr.) Nathan Renfro (Jr.)

Brad Craddock. That’s all you need to know, really.

He’s the Lou Groza Award winner for this season for the best placekicker in the nation. He beat Roberto Aguayo of Florida State for that honor. One does not simply beat Roberto Aguayo for a kicking award. Aguayo is a titan. Which means that Craddock is… better than a titan.

He’s an Australian that hasn’t watched any American football games live apart from the ones that he’s kicked in. In fact, he actually first came to Maryland as a punter and had to learn placekicking from scratch on the fly his freshman year because the starting kicker got injured. It was a rough start — so rough, in fact, that he contemplated quitting the team after that season. Two years later, he’s probably the best in the land.

He converted 18 of his 19 kicks this season, with his only miss being the last kick he attempted on the year — a 54-yard try against Rutgers just barely wide left. He’s 11-of-12 from 40 yards or longer. That’s not a typo, and I’m going to repeat it for emphasis: He’s 11-of-12 from 40 yards or longer. (Including that beautiful 57-yarder against Ohio State that was embedded a few paragraphs up.)

Long story short: If Maryland even so much as sniffs field goal range on Tuesday, just go ahead and chalk up 3 points for the Terps.

His leg does have its limits, though: He’s more mortal on kickoffs, as he’s 52nd in the nation with touchbacks on just 38.9 percent of his boots this season. And because Maryland’s kickoff coverage unit isn’t exactly fantastic, that’s actually given opponents a decent leg up in the field position game — Maryland is one of the worse teams in the nation with seven kickoff returns allowed of over 30 yards. They also rank in the bottom 25 in the nation by allowing an average of 22.8 yards per kickoff return (get your jets ready, Christian McCaffrey).

The punter, Nathan Renfro, has been solid all season, averaging a hair over 40 yards per punt and doing decently in terms of pinning opponents deep. He certainly gets a lot of action thanks to a pretty unspectacular Maryland offense — he’s unleashed six or more punts in eight of the team’s 12 games this year. His hangtime could use work, though — opponents have been able to return about two of those punts every game. Coverage has also been rather suspect at times on those punts. Stanford is, statistically, the best punt returning team in the nation. (Again, get your jets ready, Christian McCaffrey.)

The returning 

The same man takes care of kickoff and punt returns for Maryland: standout cornerback Will Likely. Although he hasn’t run back any kickoffs for touchdowns this season, the Terps have combined for an average of 24 yards per kickoff return, which is in the top 15 in the nation.

Punt returns are where Likely really has the opportunity to shine, though — he has a tremendous first move after he catches the ball and is one of the fastest guys on the team. Although he splits duties with electric wideout Stefon Diggs (who is listed as his backup on the depth chart at both return positions), he emerged as the favored returner down the stretch and is a threat to take it all the way on every punt.

Stanford has been solid in punt and kick coverage all season, so expect this to be one of the more intriguing matchups of Tuesday evening — especially if the game is close.

Contact Do-Hyoung Park at dpark027 ‘at’

Do-Hyoung Park '16, M.S. '17 is the Minnesota Twins beat reporter at, having somehow ensured that his endless hours sunk into The Daily became a shockingly viable career. He was previously the Chief Operating Officer and Business Manager at The Stanford Daily for FY17-18. He also covered Stanford football and baseball for five seasons as a student and served two terms as sports editor and four terms on the copy desk. He was also a color commentator for KZSU 90.1 FM's football broadcast team for the 2015-16 Rose Bowl season.

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