Looking for catches before happy returns

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Ah, New Year’s Day 2004. In retrospect, it was high tide (to date, anyway) on the Ralph Friedgen Era in College Park.

Really, it’s tough to argue that point. Maryland demolished West Virginia in the Gator Bowl, the Terps wrapped up their third straight 10-win season and Steve Suter returned a punt for a touchdown.

Since then, the Terps haven’t beaten the Mountaineers, have topped out at an extremely fortunate nine wins in 2006 and have not brought back a punt return of any kind (traditional or blocked) to the rectangular nirvana.

It’s an idea that’s been rattling around in my mind since Saturday, when I watched Ronnie Tyler fumble a couple punts in a scrimmage. Ever since that Gator Bowl, the Terps haven’t exactly put the fear of a deity into anyone with their punt return game.

Sure, Suter was back for his senior year, but it wasn’t as magical as 2002 and 2003. In the last three years, Maryland has done as much catching of punts as anything else. Well, other than one magical night in 2006, when Danny Oquendo had both a 35-yard and a 45-yard return against Florida State.

Oquendo is as sure-handed as they come, though, which is why he’ll probably have the job again this year. That was what Ralph Friedgen had to say the other day:

“I don’t know how much longer I’ll go there. We’ll see. We’ll talk about it. We have to have a guy back there who can catch punts. That’s why I do it live. I have to find out. Better I find out now than against Delaware. Right now, it’s not close. Danny Oquendo will be back there because he can catch the ball. …

If there’s one thing that drives me nuts, it’s a guy who lets the ball hit the ground and rolls for another 30 yards. He knows when he comes off to the sideline, I’m not going to be a happy camper. I need someone who can catch the football first, and we’ll worry about the returns and all that stuff later.

Fair enough. But because (a) I get curious, (b) I love charts, (c) I love lists and (d) I feel a need to justify an ever-growing library of media guides, I came up with a chart of the number of punt returns for touchdowns for every school in the ACC since the 2004 season. What I don’t love is needless difficulty, so I haven’t tried to extract the blocked punt returns from the regular ones. Either way, it’s a touchdown in that phase of the game.

School TD 
Last
Miami910-15-05 at Temple, Devin Hester 48 return
Clemson511-24-07 at South Carolina, La’Donte Harris 10 blocked return 
Florida State512-27-06 vs. UCLA, Lawrence Timmons 25 blocked return
N.C. State510-20-07 at East Carolina, J.C. Neal 20 blocked return
Virginia Tech41-3-08 vs. Kansas, Justin Harper 84 return
North Carolina49-8-07 at East Carolina, Brandon Tate 58 return
Boston College
311-13-04 vs. West Virginia, Will Blackmon 71 return
Wake Forest29-15-07 vs. Army, Kenny Moore 55 return
Georgia Tech111-13-04 vs. Connecticut, Djay Jones 5 blocked return
Virginia19-4-04 vs. Temple, Alvin Pearman 70 return
Maryland01-1-04 vs. West Virginia, Steve Suter 76 return
Duke09-1-01 vs. Florida State, Ronnie Hamilton 68 return

All of this is a very long-winded but informative way of saying Maryland wasn’t exactly a dynamite punt return team the last four years. And since Ralph plans to “worry about returns and all that stuff later,” it probably isn’t reasonable to expect that to change this fall.

Patrick Stevens

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