Notre Dame Notebook: Brian Mason Talks Fighting Irish Special Teams
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – It’s easy for a blocked kick to get lost in the shuffle after last week’s upset loss at Stanford. Brian Mason ‘s Notre Dame special teams coordinator s squads had a history of blocking kicks during his four-year tenure at Cincinnati. He has brought that same mentality to South Bend. He shared his thoughts about his special teams units.
A Penchant For Punt Blocks
Prince Kollie‘s 1st quarter punt block against Stanford was the second blocked punt by the Fighting Irish this season. It was a great opportunity for Notre Dame to score, but they were unable to do so after being stopped on a Cardinal 4th and 2 play.
“This is a point of emphasis that we want to impact the punter,” Mason stated about blocking punts. “One thing you never know is that we have a lot a really good defensive players and we try our best to get those guys to rush as they would on defense. Sometimes, you don’t know who will finish it and make it to the block. There have been some close calls between us and other guys. It’s all about getting that feeling for how you can finish it and make it happen. Bo Bauer (Kollie) and other guys have a knack for making those plays. Sometimes you just need to figure out who can do that in a transition. You want to know who can do it. It’s not easy to determine who can do it. You figure out how to put those pieces in better positions.”
Losing Bo Bauer
Captain Bo Bauer has been a special teams staple throughout his five-year Fighting Irish career. The linebacker played in 56 games in his career, with the majority of his playing time coming on special teams. After Notre Dame’s win against BYU, his career was over.
” “It’s an awful loss,” Mason said about Bauer’s injury. “That’s someone that was really a fighter for us. He wasn’t as active in defense as he might have liked or expected. He was a bit numb. He had a self-sacrifice. “I’m going be a special team captain; I’m willing to play every special team play,” he declared before he was injured. Even though he was suffering from several injuries, including a shoulder injury and other issues, he wanted to play every game on special teams. It’s a huge void that we will miss.
” As you can see, he communicates clearly and does the right thing, putting people in the right places. Mason said, “Invaluable leader.” “Veteran player. It’s amazing to see how you can have such great kids. He came here to play linebacker but, given the circumstances, he sacrificed his life to help everyone else. He will always be my hero. It’s a great example that I can always refer to. We can’t replace him with one person so it’s more like who are the veterans and men we trust on each unit that can fill that void. But certainly that’s a void that’s difficult to fill.”
More Jordan Botelho?
Jordan Botelho‘s playing time with the defense has been up and down so far, but like Bauer, he has been a consistent factor on special teams. Mason said he can see a similar role to that Bauer played for the linebacker.
“He could be like Bo in future,” Mason said. “Be that leader. He will be very proud of you. Coach was very interested in this. “Hey Botelho could become a man like Bauer. He is a true professional with a unique skill set. ‘
“He has done a great job with special teams,” Mason said. He made two tackles, and he’s been on punt block every rep he’s taken on kickoff. He’s a backup for kickoff return and punt, but he’s done an amazing job on kickoff and punt — coulda, shoulda, shoulda blocked the punt against BYU. Open tackles on kickoffs and a very physical player. “
Jon Sot – From Ivy To Irish
Punter Jon Sot has been one of Notre Dame’s most consistent special teams players. The Harvard grad transfer has averaged a career-high 45.4 yards on 27 punts this season. It’s 3.2 yards better than his previous career best at Harvard in 2019. He has boomed eight punts of better than 50 yards, with a long of 75 yards. Mason spoke highly of Sot’s achievements during his first year at Notre Dame. “(The) resources that he has here. The punting is a complex process. The punting is dominated by the long-snapper. The punting gets the coverage. To make him successful, you need to put him in situations. Being able to work with the entire unit and understand situational punting are key factors in being a good punt team. Some people are better at using these things than others. The best punter or best punt team doesn’t necessarily have the largest leg. You must perform in different situations depending on where you are on the field and where you are in the game. You can learn from the punt return team. We have a few instances that we would like to see back, especially in the BYU game, but overall we have done a great job.
” I think he’s only in his fifth year at college,” Mason said. “He’s older. He is more mature. He understands technique better. We work together on situational punting, and how to handle various situations. Harvard also cancelled a year of football and he didn’t have to train as much under COVID restrictions. He was able to get into a strength and conditioning program with Coach (Matt) Balis here that really helped change his body.”
Lack Of Kick Return Opportunities
Chris Tyree showed the kind of game changer he could be on kickoff returns with his 96-yard return for a touchdown against the Wisconsin Badgers in Chicago last season. Tyree’s opportunities are much less this season. The team has just seven returns for 119 total yards through six games, with Tyree totaling six of them for an average of 15.3 yards. His longest return is 32 yards.
” There was a point in the spring that we had moments when we changed the game like Wisconsin. But we were probably a little inconsistent,” Mason explained. “We try and make that a point: punt being No. 1, kickoff return being No. 2. …. It can be frustrating to not see the dividends pay off in the second half of the season for something you made a point to emphasize.
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“(We are) still trying to break through, get more consistent on kickoff return for sure,” Mason continued. It’s been a challenge. We know that we have a great returner, and we just need to get it all together. It could be that we didn’t catch the ball well or tried to run before it was caught in the BYU match, or that everyone worked together to get the ball. It’s possible that we’ll face some great kickers. When we have those opportunities we need to break through and hopefully we do that this week.”
Brandon Joseph’s Punt Returns
The hope was Northwestern transfer Brandon Joseph could add some oomph to Notre Dame’s punt returns this season. He averaged 28.5 yards on four returns for the Wildcats last season (even if 65 of it came on one punt). His average is 9.3 yards on 10 returns, with a long of 17 yards this season. His 9.3 yards per return ranks 28th nationally.
” Mason stated that the most important thing was to secure the ball for the offense when he was asked about Joseph’s return. He’s done a fantastic job of that. It’s easy to make a few nitpicks afterward. He has the ball. That’s the number-one objective. We’ve had to face some very good punters. We want to return it when there isn’t a lot of hang time: Lower four (seconds), lower four (seconds). There have been times when they had a hang-time of less than four seconds and we haven’t returned the ball. It’s frustrating. We want to be more aggressive in those situations. I believe there were two opportunities last week that we should have taken, but there were more earlier in the year. We are still learning to adapt and improve our ability to do that. We want to be more aggressive in those situations. But we’ve faced some good punters and they’ve just (done well against) us.”
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The author of 5 books, 3 of which are New York Times bestsellers. I’ve been published in more than 100 newspapers and magazines and am a frequent commentator on NPR.