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Arizona football: Special teams will be crucial to success once again

Kickers are people too

Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Behind one of the most explosive offenses and one of the more improved defenses in the Pac-12 lies the Arizona special teams unit, led by Casey Skowron and Drew Riggleman.

Special teams often go unnoticed, but for Arizona, the kicking game helped lead the team to Rich Rodriguez' first 10-win season at Arizona.

We'll start with Drew Riggleman, who was one of the nation's leading punters. Overall, he was ranked 5th in the nation for total punting yards, and is only one of two punters in the top 10 of that category to have punted less than 80 times. Per punt, he averaged just over 46 yards, good for 4th in the nation.

Considering Arizona was ranked 89th in 3rd down conversions, getting a first down on just about 38% of third downs, Riggleman was called on a lot more than RichRod would have liked. Now, this number is a little easier to cope with when you consider two things: 1) Rich Rodriguez often elected to go for it on fourth down and 2) Arizona probably gets two or three more possessions per game compared to most teams with their offense.

Riggleman made the UCLA loss much closer than it should have been, with the Arizona offense stalling for the final 57 minutes of that game. He punted a total of 10 times that night, yes, 10 times against the Bruins, averaging almost 48 yards a punt. His consistency kept UCLA pinned deep in their own territory all game long.

There were many games this season where Riggleman got the bounce he needed, pinning opponents inside their own 20 yard line. We're going to need some big time punts to keep the momentum on Arizona's side after a three-and-out or stalled drive.

Now, whether you want to accept it or not, Casey Skowron put Arizona in position to win multiple games last season.

Yes, he missed the game winning field goal vs. USC, which would have put Arizona at 6-0 on the season. But prior to that, he put Arizona in position to be 5-0. Think back to the USTA game, where Arizona scored on the first play of the game on an 85-yard touchdown from Anu Solomon to Cayleb Jones. After that moment, Arizona scored just 19 points for the remainder of the game, 13 of which were accounted for by Skowron, going 4/4 on field goals when his number was called.

Next we go to the Cal game. There is no "Hill Mary" if Casey Skowron doesn't execute a perfect onside kick, putting Arizona in position to make it a one score game. Back to the USC game, where he pulled off another successful onside kick, this time putting himself in position to hit the game winning kick. But if Skowron doesn't convert that onside kick, there is no missed field at the end of the game, there is no hate, no criticism.

He did have a poor performance vs. USC in general, going 2/5. The three misses came from 48, 34 (blocked), and 36 yards out. UCLA was also a bad game, but nothing was going right for either team that day, in a complete struggle fest.

To this day, the Washington game is still a head-scratcher. There's no way Chris Petersen should have allowed Arizona to even have a chance to get the ball back. But, let us not forget Skowron's epic fake field goal touchdown run, leaving the fans, and Gus Johnson, enamored. And then, to top it all off, Skowron sealed the win with a 47 yard field goal to end the game.

Of course, the success of this team will rely heavily on the offense, but when the offense isn't going, Arizona will need the support of Skowron to put up some points, and the relief of Riggleman to win the field position battle.