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Tennessee Football: An analysis of Vols special teams through two games

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Tennessee Football hasn’t beaten Florida in The Swamp in 20 years.

Five of the games there since then have been decided by 10 or fewer points.

That means special teams could play a key role in the outcome of Saturday’s 7 p.m. ET matchup on ESPN.

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The return game is dynamic

Defensive back Dee Williams has turned into a dynamic return specialist.

Against Virginia, he had three punt returns for 105 yards (though he fumbled one runback) with a long of 55 yards. And he had a 34-yard kickoff return.

He followed that up with a 13-yard punt return and 33-yard kickoff return Against Austin Peay.

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“Yeah, he’s pretty special,” special teams coach Mike Ekeler said of Williams. “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: There’s not a better returner in college football – maybe not in football. He’s that special.”

Though Williams had just 18 yards in punt returns against the Governors, Ekeler said, “It looked like a video game. It was absolutely crazy.

“And I told Dee, I said, ‘I will never, ever tell you what to do, man. You’re like Picasso. You just paint, man. You see it, you paint it. … Freakin’ have at it, buddy.”

Williams could be the difference in a close game with returns that change field position or by taking one to the house.

Coverage units for Tennessee Football dont yield much yardage

Tennessee’s coverage units have been outstanding under Ekeler.

In two games, opponents have a 21-yard kick return and minus-1 yard on one punt return that resulted in a fumble.

Ekeler said Tennessee Football has gone 15 games in a row without allowing any punt return yards – a remarkable figure.

“Our players are just playing their tails off,” Ekeler said. “I told them in special teams (meeting), ‘I’ve been doing this for 20 years, and I’ve never seen a group play this hard, and not only play this hard, but play smart. I mean, these guys get it.”

Good athletes on coverage units

Tennessee Footbal has upped its recruiting under coach Josh Heupel. That’s resulted in more good athletes on coverage units.

Ekeler noted two that are exceptional: James Pearce Jr. and Caleb Herring.

“James has got an insane upside,” Ekeler said of the edge rusher who recorded two sacks against Virginia. “The guy is phenomenal.”

Pearce was on kickoff coverage last year and showed amazing speed.

“We time flying 40s,” Ekeler said, meaning timing players with a running start. “He ran a 4.1 (second) flying 40 and he’s 6-5 and 245 pounds. That’s a large human.”

Ekeler also likes Herring, who is 6-6 and 228.

“The guy can fly,” Ekeler said. “He’s running 21 miles per hour on our GPS running down on kickoffs. I mean, that’s flying. He’s running like a 4.3 (with a head start).”

Punting has been iffy

Jackson Ross, the freshman from Australia, has a powerful leg, but he’s been erratic. He’s already shanked three punts with each going less than 30 yards.

But Ross, who can punt with either foot, averaged about 48 yards on two rugby-style left-footed punts against Austin Peay. He has clearly been better with his left foot than his right.

“That guy’s special,” Ekeler said of Ross. “When you look up at the end of the year, you’re going to be excited when you see his body of work.”

 Ross has averaged only 39 yards on nine punts.

“You don’t judge him on one punt here or there,” Ekeler said. “It’s the body of work. But that guy’s pretty amazing.”

Ekeler says Ross has the ability to punt a ball directly to a receiver running a 40-yard route.

“I was like, ‘Heup, man, he kicks it how you threw it,'” Ekeler said.

Ross must find consistency or risk giving Florida great field position after a punt.

Transfer kicker has been solid for Tennessee Football

Indiana transfer Charles Campbell has been spot-on through two games.

Campbell made all three field-goal attempts against Austin Peay, and he’s a perfect 10-for-10 on extra points.

Former Tennessee Football All-American kicker Fuad Reveiz is impressed with Campbell’s technique.

He appears to be reliable inside 40 yards. He made 76.5% of his field-goal attempts at Indiana and was 14 of 18 from 40-49 yards and 5 of 7 from over 50 yards.

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