College Sports

How O’Fallon grad Tucker McCann has led a revived special teams unit at Mizzou

It’s a question Missouri special teams coordinator Andy Hill has been asking himself since the spring, when the idea first presented itself to him.

Could Missouri kicker Tucker McCann, a 2016 graduate of O’Fallon High School, double as the team’s punter without hurting his ability to perform his other job?

On Saturday, Hill got his answer.

In Missouri’s 50-0 win over Southeast Missouri State, McCann became the first player in the 21st century to have four punts of 50 yards or more and three field goals of 40 yards or more in the same game, according to College Football Reference.

McCann is now a rare Swiss Army knife of special teams. He’s the Southeastern Conference leader in punt yards, with 626, and ranks third in yards per punt, with 44.71. His yards per punt also ranks No. 25 nationally for a drastically improved special teams unit.

McCann’s punt average in 2019 even matches the 2018 figure produced by his predecessor, Corey Fatony.

“He really hit it tonight, didn’t he?” MU coach Barry Odom said Saturday. “He’s playing really well. The workload hasn’t proved to be too much. It hasn’t messed up his swing on field-goal or extra-point opportunities.”

Odom admitted that when he and Hill first talked about the idea of having McCann pull double duty, he wasn’t expecting McCann to be this good as a punter. But Mizzou needed to replace Fatony, who graduated, and the other options on the roster weren’t winning the job outright. McCann doubled as a kicker and punter in high school but was offered scholarships from schools such as Alabama for his kicking abilities.

In 2018, only Oklahoma’s Austin Seibert doubled as both his team’s kicker and punter. Seibert, a Southwestern Conference contemporary of McCann’s for two seasons as a dual-threat specialist at Belleville West, was the fifth-round draft pick of the Cleveland Browns in June. He scored 11 points in Cleveland’s Monday Night Football victory over the New York Jets.

McCann has had his share of ups and downs in Columbia. He struggled to hit extra points early in his career but has also tried to play hero, hitting a career-long 57-yard field goal against South Carolina in 2018 to give MU the late lead in a 37-35 loss.

Hill didn’t hold back when asked if McCann is in the middle of the best stretch of his career. He pointed out that all of the 6-foot-2 senior’s kickoffs against SEMO resulted in touchbacks. Overall, 21 of McCann’s 22 kickoffs this season have gone for touchbacks, which ranks second nationally.

In order to keep him fresh, Hill and McCann have tried to manage how many kicks he attempts during the week in practice, much like a pitcher would watch his pitch count in baseball.

“The best ball he hit (against SEMO) was the last one, the 52-yard field goal,” Hill said. It was good to see consistency. I see it a lot in practice like that.”

McCann’s rise hasn’t been the only improved part of Hill’s special teams unit — the Tigers also rank No. 8 nationally in punt returns. In 2018, the Tigers finished the season ranked No. 129 among 130 FBS teams in that category.

On Saturday, Missouri return man Richaud Floyd returned a punt 71 yards for a touchdown against SEMO. MU hadn’t returned a punt for a touchdown since 2017, when Floyd took one to the house at Vanderbilt. Floyd also had a 43-yard return in MU’s loss at Wyoming that helped set up a late score as the Tigers tried to rally.

In 2018, Floyd got knocked out on a punt return at Tennessee and many wondered if his days of returning kicks were over. Instead, Floyd shook it off and was back in time for the Liberty Bowl.

Odom has described Floyd as one of MU’s most selfless players. He switched from wideout to cornerback when high school classmate Jonathan Nance transferred to MU and has mainly played on special teams as a senior.

“He’s done a great job,” Hill said of Floyd. “He’s working extra. The guys believe in him. He’s had two good returns and he’s had chances for a couple more.”

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