Miami football 2020 preview: Special teams

Then Redshirt Sophomore Punter Lou Hedley prepares to kick the ball during Miami’s game versus Virginia Tech on Oct. 5, 2019.
Redshirt junior punter Lou Hedley prepares to kick the ball during Miami’s game versus Virginia Tech on Oct. 5, 2019. Photo credit: Jared Lennon

The 2019 season was frustrating in many ways for the Miami Hurricanes. But one major weakness from 2019 may be just as much of a strength for the team this season.

Former Florida International University placekicker Jose Borregales transferred to Miami as a graduate student in the offseason and he will provide a level of consistency to the kicking game that has been absent since the graduation of former UM placekicker Michael Badgley in 2017.

Borregales is an absolute upgrade from last year’s initial starting kicker Bubba Baxa, who transferred to the University of Houston in the offseason.

Baxa missed five of his 10 field goal attempts a season ago and failed to convert two extra points. Borregales, meanwhile, hit 21 of his 29 field goals in 2019 for FIU and is 50-66 across his collegiate career. He also made all three of his attempts in his former team’s upset win over the Hurricanes last year at Marlins Park, including a career-high 53-yarder as time expired in the first half.

The Booker T. Washington High School alum made sure to get reps in during the pandemic-plagued offseason, even if it meant getting kicked off public park land by police officers, as he explained in a press conference during fall camp. Still, his goals as a Hurricane remain more modest.

“My goals here is you know just to win the ACC championship,” Borregales said in a post-practice press conference. “I’m not much of an individual guy. I want the team to win instead of just me getting all the accolades. I came here ready to work and help the team win and that’s what I’m going to continue doing.”

While the kicking game has been an area of concern for the Hurricanes, punting has been the opposite.

Redshirt junior Lou Hedley averaged a robust 43.9 yards per punt in 2019, which was his first season as a Hurricane after transferring from City College of San Francisco. The rugby style punter from Australia is an asset for the Hurricanes, but they’ll look to use him less in 2020 with a new offensive scheme under coordinator Rhett Lashlee, with the hope that punts become much less frequent. Hedley had to punt 11 times in UM’s regular season finale at Duke and nine times in the Walk-On’s Independence Bowl against Louisiana Tech.

“It’s the best I’ve ever felt and I’m just super excited that the season’s gone ahead. I can’t wait to get out there,” Hedley said during a post-camp press conference.

In the return game, UM won’t have DeeJay Dallas or K.J. Osborn to catch punts or kicks.

With the returner spot up for grabs, a number of names were floated around over the offseason, including freshman running back Jaylan Knighton, junior receiver Mark Pope, and senior receiver Mike Harley. However, Diaz and outside linebackers/special teams coach Jonathan Patke elected to go with the speedster Pope as the returner.

Diaz said that he expects Pope to “make great decisions.”

“The plays come,” Diaz said. “If you try to force them, force them in the kicking game or force them on offense, sometimes the crazy expectation that every play is supposed to be a touchdown, that’s just not the way it is…what I tell [Pope] to do is just to make great decisions, and the plays that are there to be made, make them.”