Miami Hurricanes RB Jaylan Knighton can add explosiveness on KOR

Louisville Vs Miami 2020
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The announcement by Miami Hurricanes special teams coach Jonathan Patke that true freshman running back Jaylan Knighton will on kickoff returns is overdue.

Miami Hurricanes true freshman running back Jaylan Knighton has been explosive on offense this season. The announcement by special teams coach Jonathan Patke that Miami wants to get him in kickoff returns is overdue. Junior wide receiver Mark Pope is a solid 27th nationally in kick returns, but Miami needs a difference-maker.

Pope is averaging 22.2 yards per kickoff return with a long of 31. Against Florida State, Pope had his best game with two kickoff returns for 52 yards. Pope has been reliable but based on their offensive numbers, Knighton has the potential to be more explosive. The freshman has 19 carries for 96 yards and five receptions for 109 yards.

Knighton has a long run of 25 yards and had a 75-yard touchdown reception against Louisville that looked like he was shot out of a cannon. The five kickoff returns for 111 yards this season by Pope are all Miami has had. Pope has two fumbles on punt returns which caused Miami to switch to true freshman Xavier Restrepo.

Knighton and Restrepo were teammates at Deerfield Beach high school. Restrepo handled most of the return duties. As a senior in 2019, Restrepo had 185 yards in kickoff returns and 97 punt return yards. Knighton was significantly higher ranked coming out of high school and a far more explosive player.

"“Knighton is really, really elite…We really want to get him back there on kickoff return.. He’s been running with the twos and every time we go kickoff return (in practices) he’s back there catching kicks so there’s no question we would like to work him into the game and I think he’s close to doing that.You see him on offense, once he gets out he has the explosiveness to go the whole way,” Patke said…Don Chaney will be the next guy as well…I always say that kickoff return is like an offensive play…You kind of want an offensive player like a tailback or receiver who can read it and return it. It’s like an offensive play and you’re reading the play.We roll guys back there every day and we’ve got a handful that we feel comfortable with. I thought we could have gotten more out of that return honestly…A good return is to the 25..Obviously you can fair catch it and get it to the 25. If we take it out, we want to be past the 30.What I’m disappointed with right now and we haven’t had many returns, but we need an explosive play on the return units of our football team…Hopefully more of an explosive return, and we need an explosive kick return. That’s our goal, to be explosive.Obviously to have the ball at the end of the play, but we need to be explosive with that return and that’s what we’re looking for right now—a guy that can be explosive. “We’re hunting for that explosive return and I think it’s coming, We got to keep working.”"

The interview with Patke as transcribed by Christopher Stock of Inside the U shows that Patke and the Miami Hurricanes coaching staff are searching for answers after the Miami Hurricanes were dominated 42-17 by Clemson on Saturday. Restrepo nearly had a turnover on a punt return in the second half inside the Miami 10 yardline.

Chaney is another player to watch in the return game. Patke’s comments indicate they prefer an upperclassman returning punts. Patke discussed in the video above the difficulty of returning punts versus kickoffs. Special teams is the least significant of the three facets of football, but can often be the difference between a win and loss.

Pope had the only official return for Miami against Clemson with a kickoff return for 18 yards. The special teams on the whole for the Hurricanes were by far the best unit against the Tigers. Bubba Bolden had two of the three blocked field goals by Miami. One of Bolden’s blocks was returned for a TD by D.J. Ivey to end the first half.

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Miami has not had a return TD since DeeJay Dallas and Jeff Thomas both had punt return scores in 2018. K.J. Osborn was explosive for the Hurricanes on punt returns in 2019. Osborne finished fourth nationally in 2019 averaging 15.94 yards per punt return. Thomas was 42nd with a 22.33 kickoff return average in 2019.