Maryland's Will Likely shattered a 76-year-old Big Ten record in week one of the 2015 season, and even though he only stands at 5'7, 175 pounds, he is a shutdown cornerback who will be playing on Sundays.
Only a junior, Likely came into the 2015 season as the Big Ten's most dangerous return man, with three career return touchdowns. Even though he did not take over kick return duties until the final four games of last season, Likely still averaged 31 yards per kick return and took one back to the house. He ran up 228 yards of kick returns on Michigan State and 160 yards versus Stanford. He has been even better as a punt returner, where as an underclassmen, he averaged over 25 yards per punt return in a game, five times.
Likely lived up to the hype in the first game of the 2015 season versus Richmond, where he set the Big Ten record for most punt return yardage in a game, 233, which was previously set by Iowa Hawkeye legend Nile Kinnick in 1939. Maryland's defense did their job, forcing Richmond to punt to Likely eight times. He rang up a 29.13 punt return average and a 31.5 yard kick return average against the Spiders.
One would think that coaches would start kicking away from Likely, like NFL teams used to do against former Kansas City Chief Dante Hall or Devin Hester, but Bowling Green did not do the smart thing. Instead, they punted to him and he made them pay, by returning one 85-yards to the end zone. It was a good directional punt, something that Coach Meyer might do on Saturday, but Likely still found a way to crease it for six.
When watching his five career return touchdowns, they are all somewhat similar:
He starts with tracking the ball in the air very well, he is always camped out under it and ready to receive it.
Once he has the ball, he uses his playmaking ability and quickness to make the first man miss.
After making the first man miss, he possesses excellent patience and allows his blockers to typically set up a middle return. He usually hesitates east-west, allowing his blockers to set-up.
Once the return is set up, he finds the crease in the coverage, he hits the crease (usually between the hashmarks) at full acceleration and s off to the races.
Buckeye special teams vs Likely
Will Coach Urban Meyer and Coach Kerry Coombs trust punter Cameron Johnston, who has had a few excellent games this year, and the punt unit to test Likely? Or will they have him boot it out of bounds? The directional kickoffs will be a given. The Buckeyes should have the advantage there.
Terry McLaurin and Vonn Bell have done excellent jobs as gunners on the punt team and if Johnston gets solid hang time, it will be on them to get downfield and force Likely to call a fair catch or not give him space to make a play. Parris Campbell will be back this week and he was one of the better special teams players before his injury, so he could also make an impact.
In last year's match-up against Maryland, the Ohio State coverage teams put on a clinic. They held the dynamic Stefon Diggs to 38 total yards on three kick returns, the punt coverage team downed a punt at the 7-yard line and held Likely to a fair catch at the 11. That is how you win the field position battle.
The film of the best kickoff unit running down the field last weekend making plays was the best I've ever seen pic.twitter.com/R7KnrN985K— Urban Meyer (@OSUCoachMeyer) October 7, 2014
The Buckeye special teams units are one of, if not the best in the nation but they have yet to face an electric returner like the Terrapins' Will Likely. Let's hope it is a repeat performance of 2014.