"I'm going to say no, because there are some things we need to clean up," Zyskowski said in the happy Monarch blue aftermath of a 28-14 win against Hampton University. "There are six special teams units out there; we thought we did well in four of them. The other two we have to clean up next week."
Except that special teams are largely about nits — a detail here, an angle there, a crack left uncovered, a tendency open to exploitation. Nits and desire and ability, anyway.
"I'll be honest with you," ODU head coach Bobby Wilder said. "I've been coaching for 23 years and I have not been around many football teams that think this is what you're supposed to do, (that) you're supposed to beat people on teams. Right now, the reason we're one of the best special teams units in the country is because of the attitude of our players."
Like many programs nowadays, ODU's special teams are dotted with front-line starters. Defensive end and leading tackler Deron Mayo, the former Kecoughtan High and Hofstra standout, was responsible for the first two blocked punts, offensive halfback Desmond Williams the third.
The blocked punts resulted in touchdown drives of 1 and 9 yards, and a touchdown itself, when former Phoebus standout Colby Goodwyn fell on the ball in the end zone for a 14-0 lead six minutes into the game. The Monarchs had two touchdowns before they recorded a first down.
"What we try to sell and one of our themes has become that's our all-star team," Zyskowski said. "Special teams are the all-stars. Because everybody's recruited for offense or defense, now we can take the best of the best and put them on special teams."
Zyskowski cited players such as former Phoebus teammates Paul Morant and Goodwyn, who have become special teams standouts. Goodwyn was in the top 10 in the nation in kickoff returns before he was injured Saturday.
"They're offensive or defensive guys, unless they're kickers, snappers or punters," Zyskowski said. "After that, you get to choose the best of the best. Some head coaches don't believe in that, but Coach Wilder, since day one, that's been our No. 1 emphasis — special teams first, offense and defense second. He allows me free reign of those kids to choose from."
Wilder recruited Mayo for the punt block unit last week, believing that the defensive end's speed and tenacity in combination with a flaw in Hampton's protection could lead to multiple blocked kicks.
"It's frustrating," HU punter Jordan Stovall said, "because the first time, you figure you can make corrections. By the second and third time, it's kind of gettin' old."
The three blocked punts were most glaring, but the Pirates' special teams gaffes also included a fumbled kickoff return in the first quarter that set up ODU at the HU 11. The Monarchs might have had more, but two plays later Williams fumbled the ball back to the Pirates at the 1-yard line.
"Going into the game, that wasn't a concern that would happen," HU coach Donovan Rose said. "My hat goes off to them. They made plays, whoever blocked it, they made the play over our guys. That was really the turning point, I thought, in the game."
Though the Pirates hadn't had a punt blocked since 2004, longtime HU observers know that special teams have failed them even in the best of times. Hampton's three consecutive MEAC title teams, from 2004-06, all were bounced in the first round of the NCAA playoffs due at least in part to special teams mishaps.
In 2004, HU permitted William and Mary's first kickoff return for a touchdown in a decade in a 42-35 loss. In '05, the Pirates missed a pair of makeable field goals in the first half and botched a kickoff return in the second half, which opened the door for Richmond's 38-10 win.
One year later, New Hampshire converted a fake punt that Hampton's players and coaches said they knew was coming, which led to the decisive points in an agonizing 41-38 loss.
Obviously, none of that had anything to do with Saturday's game. It simply continued a trend of spotty special teams play for Hampton, which missed a pair of field goals in a 10-7 loss to South Carolina State the week before, and superior special teams play from the Monarchs that resulted in a signature victory for the program.
"We can draw the X's and O's all we want, but the kids have to buy into it," Zyskowski said. "The nice part is now, you can draw up a scheme for next week and they're going to buy into it because obviously this one worked this week. If you get the kids to believe in you, which in turn gets them to believe in themselves, that's when you start having success."
Poor guy. Maybe he'll have a better day next Saturday. But given his standards, only a blocked kick, a touchdown return and a winning Powerball ticket would qualify.
Dave Fairbank can be reached at 247-4637 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more from Fairbank, read his blog at dailypress.com/fromthetarpit.