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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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One step away
June 8, 2024

A&M special teams trending up into bye week

Photo by Photo by Robert O’Brien

Place kicker Caden Davis punting the ball in the first quarter.

Texas A&M’s special teams unit has had some key, game-changing plays in recent weeks, heading in the right direction for the remainder of the regular season.

There hasn’t been just one player making big plays, either. It’s been a collective effort from everybody in the unit, allowing for big returns and timely kicks. A&M’s punting game has been quite strong as well, and the kickoff unit has been solid in coverage and minimizing damage.

A&M is one of only two teams in the country that has returned at least one kick and punt for a touchdown. In the case of the kick return, it followed a blocked punt by Alabama. Sophomore running back Devon Achane’s 96-yard return was the first time the Aggies returned a kickoff for a touchdown since 2018.

Achane said he was shocked at the open hole that allowed him to streak down Alabama’s sideline. The speedster reached a maximum of 22.2 mph on the return and earned SEC Special Teams Player of the Week honors for his effort.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Achane said. “The hole was so big. It was just like, ‘Is this for me?’ It was just amazing, and the feeling after that on scoring … was just amazing.”

Senior kicker Seth Small said he and Achane were talking during the week of practice leading up to Alabama about how he might have a chance to break away on a return. Also, after nailing three field goals last weekend against the Gamecocks, Small tied the A&M career record of 63, set by Randy Bullock from 2009-2011.

“Every time he would run back, I would tell him, ‘They’re soft on kickoff. If you want to break one loose, it’s going to happen,’” Small said. “And I’m glad he took my advice and returned one. That whole kickoff return team did their job, and it resulted in six points.”

Small had quite a big role in that game himself, nailing the time-expiring, game-winning, 28-yard field goal that sealed A&M’s victory over then-No.1 Alabama. Small is tied for third in the nation in field goals attempted and fourth in field goals made. 

Unfortunately, there have been some gaffs with the field goal unit in the last two games. South Carolina was able to block one of Small’s attempts, and Small missed two field goals on the road against Missouri. Head coach Jimbo Fisher said those mistakes are not something he sees continuing in the future. 

“[Small] had a bad snap on [the] second one and missed a field goal,” Fisher said. “That’s uncharacteristic.”

Junior receiver Ainias Smith had a touchdown return of his own off a South Carolina punt on Saturday, Oct. 23. He took it 95 yards, the third-longest punt return in school history and the FBS’ longest this season. Smith also ranks fifth in the nation in average punt return yardage.

Smith, who was named the SEC Special Teams Player of the Week for Week 8, said there was a split second when he realized he could take it all the way.   

“So when I saw the ball in the air, I looked down for a second, and I was like, ‘Yeah, I might get a return right here,’” Smith said. “And then, shoot, I caught it, and I had a little bit of room, so I just took off.”

Sophomore punter and Australia-native Nik Constantinou has had a great season thus far as well. He won SEC Punter of the Week earlier in the season against New Mexico for downing all four of his punts inside the 20-yard line, booting a 60-yard punt that was downed inside the five and averaging 45.5 yards per punt. 

Constantinou has also led A&M to the 35th-best net punting yard average in the nation at 41.27, and has the 29th highest average per-punt yardage at 44.42. 

Sophomore place-kicker Caden Davis has done a commendable job in his role on the kickoff unit. Davis is currently eighth among FBS placekickers in touchbacks, with 35, and had a single-game season-high seven in the 44-14 win over South Carolina. Davis also had a nice tackle on a kickoff against the Gamecocks. 

The Aggies possess dangerous speed on returns and a trio of dependable legs that set up A&M’s offense and defense well. It wouldn’t be at all shocking to see a couple more big returns from Achane or Smith, and some clutch kicks over the remaining four games.

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