Best kicker. Best punter.
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn is convinced that both will be on the field Saturday when No. 1 Alabama visits sixth-ranked Auburn at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Alabama has punter JK Scott, a four-year starter who has been among the tops in the country since his freshman season.
Auburn has kicker Daniel Carlson, the SEC’s all-time leading scorer and a three-time finalist for the Lou Groza Award, presented annually to the nation’s top collegiate placekicker.
“I do think Saturday people will see the best punter and the best kicker on the same field,” Malzahn said.
Scott has been, to some degree, a victim of Alabama’s success. He’s averaging 42 yards per punt, but hasn’t been able to often really leg it out because of Alabama’s field position. Of his 38 punts, 21 have pinned opponents inside their 20-yard line.
He also hasn’t been able to punt often enough to get himself into the SEC individual rankings. That requires an average of 3.6 punts per game, and he’s only punted 3.45 times on average.
Opponents have only returned 37 percent of his punts, a total of 14 all season. He’s punted 50 yards or more 13 times.
None of this has escaped Malzahn’s notice.
“Just the field position that he gives his team, and I don’t think there’s hardly any returns at all this year because he kicks it so high,” Auburn’s coach said. “I think the same thing could be said going into last year’s game; he’s done it year-in and year-out. “
Carlson has been a standout for Auburn. He’s made 19 of 25 field goal attempts this season – a 76 percent success rate – but five of those misses have been from 40 yards or longer, and three have been on attempts of 50 yards or more. He’s made four field goals from 50 yards or better, with a long of 54 yards.
“Our kicker is just phenomenal and just continues to set the standard,” Malzahn said.
Alabama coach Nick Saban gives the Tigers high marks in the kicking game.
“They’ve got some real special people on special teams, including the kicker, Daniel Carlson, who is a weapon in and of himself,” Alabama’s coach said.
So each team has a specialist who is, well, special. But a look at the flipside of the equation might also be helpful.
Auburn has struggled at punter, with two players seeing significant time and both averaging 39.8 yards per punt. Only 9 of 41 Auburn punts have pinned opponents inside the 20-yard line, and only three have traveled 50 yards or more.
Freshman Aidan Marshall has taken over the position.
“He’s had some good games – obviously the Texas A&M game was his best one, and that was when we needed him the most,” Malzahn said. “He’s gathering experience as he goes, so we expect him to punt well on Saturday.”
Alabama’s placekicking game has been solid. Andy Pappanastos had made 15 of 19 attempts – a success rate of 78.9 percent – and is perfect on kicks of less than 40 yards, but he hasn’t attempted anything from 50 or beyond. Scott has kicked long field goals for Alabama, making his only attempt between 40 and 49 yards and going 0-for-2 from 50 yards out or longer.
Also of note: Auburn has had two field goals blocked, while Scott has had a punt blocked.
“Obviously in a close game, special teams are big. Whoever, usually, makes impact in special teams in a game like this has a chance to come out on top,” Malzahn said.
This will be the final regular-season game for both Carlson and Scott. SEC coaches are probably glad to see them go.
“That probably is a good way to put it,” Malzahn said.
Reach Tommy Deas at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0224.
No. 1 Alabama at No. 6 Auburn
When: Saturday, Nov. 25 at 2:30 p.m.
Where: Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn
Records: Alabama 11-0, 7–0 SEC; Auburn 9-2, 6-1 SEC
Radio: 95.3 FM, 102.9 FM