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IU football position review: Specialists

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Hoosier specialists quietly did their jobs well this past fall — as one would hope

Indiana v Rutgers Photo by Corey Perrine/Getty Images

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of post-mortems on Indiana’s position groups. We’ll spread them out over the next few weeks, looking at how each unit fared during the 2020 season, and how each group projects to look in 2021. First up, the specialists.

How they fared

The lasting image of Indiana’s trip to the 2020 Gator Bowl was a special teams oversight — a morale-draining, backbreaking, ever-predictable special teams blunder that helped spoil IU’s first postseason game in three seasons.

But it wasn’t just that moment in Jacksonville where IU’s attention to detail in the special teams phase was questionable. The Hoosiers had a few letdowns during the 2019 campaign, leading IU coach Tom Allen and newly-appointed coordinator Kasey Teegardin to spend the offseason vowing to fix that area of Indiana’s game.

So how’d they do?

Really, really good!

While putting this together, I tried to think of low points and glaring missteps and had a hard time pinpointing many. Sure, there was Jared Smolar’s errant squib (that looked more like a botched onside) kick in the Penn State game. That wasn’t good. But otherwise? Man, it’s hard to complain about much else.

Start with redshirt sophomore Charles Campbell, who turned in one of the best seasons of any kicker in the Big Ten. Campbell connected on 10 of his 11 field goal attempts — including all five of his opportunities under 40 yards — and drilled each of his 25 point-after attempts. A second-team All-Big Ten honoree by the coaches and media, Campbell ended on a high note when he made field goals of 50 and 53 yards in the Outback Bowl loss to Ole Miss. He’s now 3-for-3 from 50-plus yards during his career, and his 53-yard shot in the bowl game stands as an IU bowl record, an Outback Bowl record and a career-long mark. It was also the third-longest field goal ever made by a Hoosier. He’s a good one.

Punter Haydon Whitehead was, at worst, solid. Often, he was good-to-great at booting balls downfield. Whitehead placed 11 punts inside the 20-yard line and launched eight punts of at least 50 yards. For the year, he averaged 43.4 yards per punt and earned honorable mention recognition from the league’s coaches and media.

Meanwhile, long snapper Sean Wracher has been trustworthy and consistent across his first two years on the job. IU’s had a few really, really good snappers in recent years, Matt Dooley and Dan Godsil among them, and Wracher appears to be continuing the trend.

Elsewhere, Reese Taylor was honored by the conference with All-Big Ten honorable mention recognition for his work on returns this season. Taylor averaged 8.1 yards on nine punt returns this season.

What’s on deck?

Campbell and Smolar are coming back, so are Wracher and Reese. It’s the punting that will look different in 2021.

As far as we can tell, there doesn’t seem to have been any official announcement confirming Whitehead is done with college football. But this story in the Bloomington Herald-Times indicated that the Outback Bowl would be Whitehead’s final game in an IU uniform. In that case, Indiana will turn to New Zealand product James Evans. The newcomer has never played football, but he’ll get started in the coming weeks. Evans is one of five players Indiana signed last month who enrolled for the spring semester.

Overall grade

A+

It was an impressive, consistent season for Teegardin’s group in the kicking realm, on the punting side, in coverage — really all of it. The prospect of having an inexperienced punter next season will be something to monitor, but IU’s approach to the third phase of the game in 2020 should inspire confidence moving forward.

And after some of the glaring mistakes in recent years, this is a group that also deserves credit for cleaning things up and authoring a strong showing in a strange year.