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Williams leading special teams

MU football
Oct. 11, 2012 @ 12:19 AM

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the final part of a series breaking down Marshall's football progress through the first half of the season.

HUNTINGTON -- Heading into the football season, Marshall University had experienced kick and punt returners but question marks in the punting and kicking games.

Boy, has that turned out to be backward.

Thundering Herd special teams performances have been completely up and down, shining in a few moments and proving costly in others.

Simply put, it has been the continuation of an up-and-down start to the 2012 season all around.

STRENGTHS: When preseason camp opened the punting battle simply became laughable at times.

True freshman Tyler Williams and redshirt freshman Austin Dumas took turns the first week shanking punt after punt into the stands. It was a big cause for concern at the time.

During the second week of camp, Williams started working more with snapper Matt Cincotta -- another true freshman -- and the result was much more consistency in the punting game.

Williams continued to grow as a punter and easily won the starting job prior to the season opener at West Virginia.

In his first game, he averaged 51.2 yards on four punts against the Mountaineers with five punts going for more than 50 yards while also getting enough hang time to limit Tavon Austin, West Virginia's speedy return threat, to just 19 yards on three returns.

Williams used that momentum to catapult his first six games as an NCAA Division I athlete. Currently, Williams is seventh in the NCAA in punting, averaging 46.3 yards per punt.

Williams has a long punt of 66, which came at a critical time for the Herd in the fourth quarter of the win over Rice. Nine of his 19 punts have landed inside the 20-yard line while seven of his punts have gone for 50 yards or more. He only has one touchback on the year.

"I think the actual punt (game) has been good," Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said.

In addition to the strength of the punt game, the Herd also has two punt blocks to its credit -- one by Jermain Kelson that led to Derek Mitchell's 35-yard touchdown return and the other by C.J. Crawford against West Virginia.

Field goal kicker Justin Haig has been 5-for 7 on the year, but has a long of just 37 yards.

WEAKNESSES: Marshall's return games have been average, at best.

Senior Andre Snipes-Booker is the punt returner and kick returner, and there hasn't been much to talk about in the return game.

It is somewhat expected in the punt game, given that Holliday likes to go after punts and when he does it is almost an automatic fair catch call for the return man.

However, the kick return game has been disappointing.

Yes, there are new rules in place and those do make it more difficult for the return man to get big yardage, but every team is facing it and not every team is averaging just more than 20 yards a return (20.07 to be exact).

Snipes-Booker's longest return was 30 yards, which is scary given that he's had 24 opportunities through six games.

"Our kickoff return has been disappointing," Holliday said. "We haven't gotten the returns I felt we got a year ago."

Holliday said he was happy with kickoff coverage until Saturday against Tulsa when the Herd gave up a crucial kickoff return for a touchdown literally seconds after seizing the momentum back following a touchdown.

Also, while Haig has been 5-for-7 on field goal attempts, his long has only been 37 yards and he had a 37-yarder blocked at Purdue.

Trajectory has been an issue for Haig, and it is something that needs continued work.

KEY PLAYER GOING FORWARD: Andre Snipes-Booker

Snipes-Booker has shown the ability to make plays in the return game before, but it appears he is having trouble gauging the gaps in the return lanes this year with kickoff coverage teams being moved up five yards because of rules changes by the NCAA.

While Marshall's offense has done a solid job of moving the ball and sustaining long drives, it would be made much easier if the team wasn't starting from its 20-25-yard line consistently following each kickoff.

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