2017 Season in Review: Special teams

Monday, December 11, 2017 - 7:48pm

Redshirt freshman kicker Quinn Nordin started the season strong, but struggled down the stretch.

Redshirt freshman kicker Quinn Nordin started the season strong, but struggled down the stretch. Buy this photo
Amelia Cacchione/Daily

With the Michigan football team’s 2017 regular season in the books, the Daily looks back at the performance of each unit this year and looks ahead to the future in 2018. In this edition: special teams.

Entering 2017, all the talent was there.

Redshirt freshman kicker Quinn Nordin was finally the starting kicker. Donovan Peoples-Jones offered promise in the return game with his athleticism alone. And of course, Garrett Moores was coming off a season that warranted Mortell Holder of the Year honors.

Throw a tight punting competition and James Foug into the mix, and it looked like the Wolverines had a recipe for success.

Unfortunately for Michigan, though, the talent didn’t yield many highlights.

HIGH POINT: Any time a Wolverine kicker sets a record, Michigan fans are bound to tune in. That’s exactly what happened earlier in the season when Nordin became the first Wolverine to ever hit two 50-yard field goals in the same game.

Nordin did so against Florida, in Cowboys Stadium, in the season opener. He converted four out of six field goals that game, boosting Michigan to a 33-17 win, and the hype behind the kicker escalated quickly.

But just as quickly as the hype rose, it would fall just as hard — but more on that in the section below.

The Wolverines didn’t have many big plays on special teams this season, but freshman Donovan Peoples-Jones’ 79-yard punt return touchdown against Air Force added at least one highlight to the reel.

 

Peoples-Jones weaved in and out of the Falcons’ return coverage, speeding past the entire unit for Michigan’s first touchdown of the day. Peoples-Jones made a handful of questionable decisions regarding fair catches this season — it even cost him his job at one point — but Harbaugh stuck with him, and it seems like the right decision.

LOW POINT: For all the success Nordin had to open the year, things quickly turned sour.

Given its place in the Wolverines’ season, it’s almost fitting that Nordin’s season began going off the rails in Happy Valley.

Michigan quickly fell into a 14-point hole to open the game thanks to Saquon Barkley. The Wolverines’ first punch back came at the beginning of the first quarter, when junior running back Karan Higdon found the end zone.

Out trotted Nordin. Moments later, he trotted off having missed the extra point wide left.

And so began his downward spiral.

He missed a 37-yard field goal against Rutgers. He missed from 49 yards and another extra point against Minnesota.

Then things came to a head in College Park. Nordin missed from 31 yards and came off the field before getting into what looked like an animated conversation with coach Jim Harbaugh.

After the game, Harbaugh clarified there was no animosity in the conversation. But he did deliver a simple message.

“He didn’t really snap back,” Harbaugh said of Nordin. “I said to him, ‘I’m giving you one more shot. You’ve got to make the next one.’ And he said, ‘I got this. I will make the next one.’ ”

As it turns out, Nordin did. He briefly corrected course against Wisconsin — converting on each of his field goal and extra-point attempts. But his last kick of the regular season ended with a block by the Buckeyes.

THE FUTURE: Not a whole lot will change for the special teams crew.

Nordin will be back, and freshman punter Brad Robbins will be back, too. In the return game, Peoples-Jones will stick around to return punts, and freshman defensive back Ambry Thomas, who returned kickoffs all year, will also be available next season.

The most notable change, and perhaps the most significant, is the loss of holder Garrett Moores.

Moores, the previous Mortell Holder of the Year award winner, is out of eligibility after this season. Though he failed to repeat as the HOTY winner — an accomplishment no holder has previously ever achieved — Moores still had a solid season.

And for all the parody videos he makes on Twitter in the name of self-deprecating humor, Moores was good at his job.

It has yet to be seen who is going to take his spot, but they’ll certainly have big shoes to fill.