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September 29, 2011One of the biggest questions facing NC State entering the 2011 football season was special teams, specifically the three true freshmen specialists that were counted on to handle the kicking games.
A third of the way into the season, kicker Niklas Sade, punter Wil Baumann and long snapper Scott Thompson have not disappointed.
"I think they are doing good," special teams coordinator Jerry Petercuskie said. "I think they are on schedule with what we expected of them because of their demeanor. They have confidence in themselves. I think that has shown up."
Baumann has been the most tested since State's offense has been plagued by inconsistency in the first four games. He has punted 20 times this season for an average of 39.1 yards. If that number holds up, it would be the highest average for a Wolfpack punter since John Deraney posted that exact same number as a senior in 2006.
"Wil has continued to get better," Petercuskie stated. "I think the whole thing is handling all the situations, a Thursday night game with the crowd and stuff. I thought he did pretty good. That's an improvement over what he did in the first game against Liberty."
Half of Baumann's punts have been fair caught, and six of them have landed inside the 20. He had his best game of the year at Cincinnati, punting six times for an average of 42.5 yards per boot, including a career-best 52 yarder.
Curiously, Baumann has fared much better on the road than at home. In games against Liberty and South Alabama, Baumann has punted 10 times for an average of 36.0 yards. During contests at Wake Forest and Cincinnati, Baumann has kicked 10 times for an average of 42.2 yards.
"Maybe he's intimidated by all our passionate fans," a sarcastic Petercuskie said. "I don't know. He's improved in practice, and I think that he's going to continue to improve."
Sade has connected on all three of his field goal attempts, all of which came in the first two contests, with a long of 45 yards. He's made 14 of 15 extra points. On kickoffs, Sade is averaged 62.7 yards on 23 kicks, or to about the opponents' 7-yard line, with two touchbacks.
"Nik's been really solid," Petercuskie noted. "He had a much better day kicking off against Cincinnati placing the ball. Field goal wise he's been a little dry lately because he hasn't had many opportunities, but the ones he's had obviously he has hit."
Thompson has been barely noticeable for NC State, and that's a good thing.
"Scott's been solid," Petercuskie said. "If he can continue to do that we'll be okay."
The return game continues to be led by senior receiver T.J. Graham. He's averaging 24.7 yards per kickoff return and 24.2 yards per punt return, including an 82-yard touchdown.
Graham would more than double the league leader in punt return average, but because Graham has only had four chances, he does not qualify for the category. He is second in the ACC in kickoff return average.
"When he gets an opportunity, he's dangerous with the football, and the guys believe in him," Petercuskie stated. "They are working hard to make a block."
Petercuskie added that Georgia Tech kickoffs this fall have traditionally been short, so that may limit Graham's opportunities Saturday.