VERMILLION – In his new role as special teams coordinator, Marquice Williams has lofty goals for the University of South Dakota football team.
He is at the same time, though, keeping things basic.
“Our motto is that we want to create and control field position,” Williams, also in charge of the defensive line, said after Tuesday’s practice inside the DakotaDome.
“The way we do that is with great effort.”
Williams, starting his fourth season with the program, took over special teams duties from Tim Triplett who left last month for St. Thomas (Minnesota).
Improving their protection and production on special teams – which would therefore help both the offense and defense – was a key focus over the off-season for the Coyotes. And for good reason.
Last season, USD ranked last in the Missouri Valley Football Conference in scoring offense (19.4) and scoring defense (35.6), as well as last in punt return average (4.5) and ninth in kickoff return average (17.5).
“This year, I think it’s going to be a whole different ballgame, and I think special teams could be one of our stronger points,” said redshirt freshman defensive back Alex Coker.
“We have a lot of guys out here competing for spots they didn’t think they would get.”
Five practices through the 14-practice spring season, the Coyotes still haven’t put together an 11 on 11 for special teams. And that’s by design, Williams said.
No, instead, he wanted every area of the team to work on things like blocking, coverage, tackling and getting off blocks.
“Doing all that, we’re putting all the pieces together,” Williams said. “I have the puzzle, but the guys don’t see the final product yet.
“If we’re able to do techniques within the schematics then it doesn’t matter what guy we throw out there.”
That’s another change under the Williams regime: More guys will be involved in the ‘core four’ areas of punt, punt return, kickoff and kickoff return.
“I can’t expect receivers or tight ends to run around and be big contributors on special teams if we’re not implementing it in practice and teaching them,” Williams said.
The goal is simple, he added: Get the best 11 guys on the field, regardless of who they are.
“They want to be in a position to not want to take you off the field, because you’re making plays,” said senior Adam Juhl, a Sioux Falls native.
By involving everyone from senior on down to redshirt freshmen (and possibly true freshmen this fall), Williams’ effort also sparks competition.
“It really pushes you to dig deep and find that extra gear you didn’t think you had,” Juhl said. “If you’re not up there on offense or defense, you can be on special teams and you can ball out on special teams.”
Depending on injuries, the Coyotes had a pretty good idea a year ago who would be contributing on special teams. Now, as Coker pointed out, anyone could be pointed to for help.
“With coach Williams, he’s going to play the best players on the field,” Coker said. “That’s the beauty of it. If you come out here and give it your all, he’s going to notice it and put you in a spot.”
And in a spot to lessen the stress on the defense or set the offense up in a better spot.
“It puts you in a better position on offense and defense, because if you come out there and pin them back, it makes it easier on the defense,” Juhl said. “Or if you get a big return, the offense can start racking up points.
“The energy out here is going to be wild and we’ll start getting those (wins).”
Over the past three years, the Coyotes have seen first-hand in the Missouri Valley the fine line between winning and losing, and it usually involves one play.
“It’s not really the schemes, it’s guys giving great effort and using their techniques,” Williams said. “If we can be consistent with those things, we’ll be fine.”