The Huskies placed 93rd out of 118 Football Bowl Subdivision, or Division I-A, teams in net punting last year.
Cole Wagner averaged 41.3 yards a punt, the third-best single-season average in school history. But the net punting average (total positive yards gained during a punt) was 34.1, or 93rd nationally.
It's not all on the sophomore from York, Pa.
Teams averaged a hefty 10.9 yards per return, putting UConn at 91st in the nation. You might have missed some of that during the Huskies' euphoric stretch run, but it played a role when things weren't going so well.
Wagner is a fine punter, but the combination of him improving, plus stronger coverage, was emphasized during practice.
"Net punting, kickoff coverage, average starting field position and things like that, really all six phases of special teams [punt, punt return, kickoff, kickoff return, field goal, PATs) are very important," said Clayton White, UConn's new special teams coach. "But you look at some of the analysis from the season and stats from previous seasons and you know there's always room to improve in certain areas and those two were a focal point."
How did it go?
"The only thing I can say about the focal point is that we definitely focused on them," White said. "We feel we have the right personnel on the field to try and get the job done. Only time will tell. We're still looking at things, working on some things. I'm looking forward to seeing how the guys come out and respond Thursday. I don't want to jinx us, but I'm looking forward to it."
White, who spent last season as the special teams coordinator and defensive backs coach at Western Kentucky, wants UConn to be known for its coverage on punts and kickoffs as much as the returns, where the Huskies feature Nick Williams, who led the country in kickoff returns (35.2 yards).
The Huskies were 85th in the nation in kickoff coverage defense with teams averaging just more than 22 yards a return against them.
The UConn defense is expected to bring fire in 2011. Solid special teams can only add fuel to the flame.
"I definitely want to be known for our coverage more this year than our returns," White said in July. "If our returns stay where they are, we'll be fine. But we need to do a great job in our net punting and our kickoff starting field position [against]."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times