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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Special teams need to be just that against Sun Devils

More often than not, rivalry games tend to be decided by the slimmest of margins. Even though Arizona has only beaten its northern neighbor once under the tutelage of head coach Mike Stoops, the average margin of victory in the four previous Duels in the Desert is a mere 6.5 points.

With the margins so close, the importance of special teams is magnified.

When Arizona was the school piling up consecutive wins over its rival in past years, Jeff Hammerschmidt was able to recall many plays on special teams that decided where the Territorial Cup would reside for the next year.

“”A Zendejas kick … a fumbled snap over the head to make it a tie back when I was a freshman. There’s so many plays in the special teams part of it that stand out because there’s so much opportunity, and you get a lot of guys who aren’t starters but they get up for the big game,”” said Hammerschmidt, Arizona’s special teams coach. “”This game always seems to have something crazy happen in special teams.””

Luckily for Arizona, the Wildcats special teams units have arguably been the most consistent aspect of the team this season. When the offense and defense weren’t performing up to its capabilities, the special teams seemed to steer Arizona in the right direction – or at least put the opposition in harm’s way.

“”It’s important that we play well in all three phases of the game, but special teams, that’s where all the big plays are made,”” said kicker Jason Bondzio, who is one of five current players who has been on an Arizona squad that has beaten ASU.

“”It determines a lot of field position so hopefully our kickoff coverage and punt teams make sure we pin them down there and our return teams are getting the offense good field position,”” he added. “”Coach (Mike Stoops) is always putting a big emphasis on that, and – in this game particularly – it could affect the outcome.””

Especially if it comes down to a last-second kick.

Arizona has already been on the short end of that stick this year in the loss to Oregon State, and ASU’s Thomas Weber has the pedigree to provide a duplicate ending this weekend. Weber, the winner of the 2007 award for the nation’s best kicker, might have more notoriety than Bondizo, but can he kick a longer field goal?

“”We’ve both got strong legs, I’m not getting into that,”” Bondzio laughed. “”I’ve never been on the same field as him at the same time in a kicking competition or anything, but he’s got a strong leg and I feel like I’ve got a strong leg. We’ll just have to see what happens.””

Regardless of who could connect from the longest range, each kicker could be called upon to decide the game late or another specialist could come up with a momentum-shifting play much earlier in the battle. Either way, the Sun Devils and Wildcats need to be extra “”special”” in the third phase of the game to have the best shot at winning on

Saturday night.

“”Both of them are great kickers. … We have a ton of confidence in Jason, and they have a ton of confidence in Weber,”” Hammerschmidt said. “”(Weber) is a great one, Jason’s a great one, let’s just protect it and let’s get it through the uprights.””

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