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December 21, 2009Ohio State's special teams have been a mixed bag in the 2009 season. It isn't that they have been terrible during the previous 12 games but they have not been where one would expect under a Jim Tressel-led team.
Of course a big injury to kicker Aaron Pettrey didn't help the kicking game despite a big field goal in overtime by walk-on Devin Barclay. It is still unknown who will be handling the duties in the Rose Bowl with Pettrey planning on being back but that decision will not be Pettrey's but rather the training staff.
Punting has been another work in progress with Jon Thoma starting off strong during the 2009 season but tailing off in the end. If you look at Ohio State's net punting numbers it ranks 39th in the nation but that number is deceptive with Thoma's punting average coming in at 38 yards per game but what helps that number is that opponents have not had much luck gathering yardage in the return game.
"I know there haven't been many (returns)," Thoma said. "We focus a lot on directional punting, punting into boundaries... whenever I say I am going to punt the ball it has to be there. Earlier in year it fell off a little bit. For whatever reason my consistency was off. We focus on net average than just hitting it out there and letting them bring it back. Anything can happen when you do that."
Thoma has known all along the importance of the punt and had the Jim Tressel philosophy drilled into his head back in high school and made the transition into the Ohio State system.
"That's all I've ever known," Thoma said. "My high school coach (Tim Tyrrel) played for Coach Tressel at Youngstown State, so he always said the punt was the most important play in football, too. I don't know that I'd feel different. It's good to know coach has that emphasis, because I've got the best players on the field blocking for me and covering for me."
Thoma is well aware that his numbers have not been up to par as of late and he has taken it harder than anyone else. The coaching staff is at a loss as to why Thoma has struggled as of late saying that the senior punter has been booming 50 yarders in practice but of course that doesn't always translate from the practice setting to a game setting.
Ohio State will be in for a challenge against an Oregon team that ranks in the top-35 nationally in returns and is averaging more than 11 yards per return. What makes them more dangerous is how they mix things up and that will test the punt coverage team for the Buckeyes.
"They've got a ton of athletes on their team," Thoma said. "One game they'll put out a heavy rush, the next time they'll go for a return. We don't know what we're going to get, so we're really just preparing for everything."
Thoma knows that he can prepare for any situation on the field but ultimately the toughest thing to prepare for is the mental aspect of punting. Not every punt is going to go out of bounds at the five yard line or pin the opponent deep and that you have to take the good with the bad.
"The bad (punts) really stick in your head more," Thoma said. "If you're feeling confident and hit a bad one, you have to sit on the sidelines and think about it. You have to just forget it, and that's what I do.