2022 Syracuse Football Preview: Special Teams
Over the years under Head Coach Dino Babers, special teams has been a source of pride for Syracuse Football . Last year, the special teams group experienced its worst season in the six seasons of Babers’ tenure. SU came up one win short of a bowl game last season, and special teams certainly played its part in holding the ‘Cuse back from postseason play. Last season, Andre Szmyt missed key field goals in a three-point loss to Clemson and an overtime loss to Wake Forest. In addition, the punting unit produced shanks and averaged less than 40 yards a punt in a season where field position proved crucial in numerous low scoring games.
One explanation for the poor special teams play would be the lack of a special teams coach on the staff last season. After Justin Lustig’s departure to join Clark Lea’s staff at Vanderbilt following the 2020 season, only Blair Cavanaugh was left on the 2021 staff as the Special Teams Quality Control Coach. Now in 2022, a new face arrives to campus as the new Special Teams Coordinator in the form of Bob Ligashesky. After serving as the Special Teams Coordinator for multiple NFL teams, Ligashesky comes to Syracuse from Bowling Green where he spent last season. Under the coaching of Ligashesky, the Falcons sported a 95% field goal percentage in 2021. This season, it will be Ligashesky’s role to restore numbers like that to an Orange program that returns all of its specialists from a year ago and adds one promising name to the squad as well.
For the past four seasons, kicking has fallen to mainly one man on campus, Andre Szmyt. The Illinois native has seen it all here at SU, beginning in 2018 when he delivered in his freshman year. Szmyt went 30-of-34 with a long of 54, good enough to receive recognition as the Lou Groza Award winner, an award given to the nations best collegiate kicker. After a standout first season for Szmyt, the kicker maintained a field goal percentage above 80% each of the next two seasons. In 2021, the script flipped. Szmyt struggled to find a rhythm, only connecting on 9-of-14 FG attempts. The 2021 field goal percentage for Szmyt was the worst for SU since Cole Murphy went just 10-of-18 back in 2016. The senior was also tossed in on kickoffs for the first time in his Orange career. He struggled off the tee as well, sending less than a quarter of kickoffs deep enough for touchbacks. This season, it seems as if Andre Szmyt will be the guy again for the Orange. The hope for SU fans is that last season was a fluke for Szmyt, and under new coach Bob Ligashesky, the fifth year senior will regain his strong form from his first few seasons in orange.
The SU punting group is surrounded by questions headed into 2022. Last year, James Williams entered the season as the main name to know. The freshman out of Watkinsville, Georgia was the only punter used in the first four games for SU. Then, Williams did not travel to Tallahassee in October when Syracuse took on Florida State. This opened the door for freshman walk-on Ian Hawkins to see his first action in Orange. The San Diego native attempted six punts, averaging just 33 yards per attempt. Williams took back the starting job the following week against Wake Forest. Ultimately, it was Hawkins, however, who finished the season in the starting role. The true-freshman took all of the snaps in each of the final three games in 2021. Both Hawkins and Williams struggled, each averaging less than 40 yards per punt. The combined average totaled for the worst average punting distance under Dino Babers. Looking ahead, both Williams and Hawkins return in 2022, and the duo is joined by a new face in Maximilian Von Marburg who hails all the way from Wagga Wagga, Australia. As Aussie punters have popped up all over the map of college football in the past decade, the ‘Cuse hope that Von Marburg can be the latest great specialist to don Orange. Von Marburg will not be new to the sport when he steps into the JMA Wireless Dome. The freshman played in the Riverina Football League back in Australia. All eyes will be on the Aussie in training camp to see if he can win over the coaching staff and earn the the starting role with the Orange in 2022.
Last season, Trebor Pena took the starting returner role for both kickoffs and punts. The freshman received nearly 75 percent of punts and almost half of kickoffs by opposing teams. Pena averaged twenty-five yards on kickoff returns and nearly eight yards on punt returns. The only other punt return for the Orange last season was Courtney Jackson. In six punt returns, the redshirt freshman took one to the house against Boston College, averaging nearly twenty yards per return. Both Pena and Jackson return to the Orange this season, so expect to see both of them deep on kicks again for the Orange.
Similar to Andre Szmyt, Aaron Bolinsky has held the starting role at SU for quite some time. The Senior out of Pennsylvania has played in 42 games over the past four seasons, including all twelve last year. Bolinsky has been the definition of consistent as the Orange have had just one field goal or punt blocked in his career. Expect Bolinsky to perform to these standards again this year.