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LSU head coach Les Miles, left, speaks with LSU place kicker Cameron Gamble (36) on the field during pregame warmups, Saturday, September 10, 2016, before kickoff against Jacksonville State at LSU in Baton Rouge, La.

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK

LSU coach Les Miles frequently asks his kickers and punters to target a certain area to shrink the field for an opposing return man. 

That request requires accuracy, and it doesn’t always work in the Tigers’ favor. For instance, Cameron Gamble kicked one out of bounds against Mississippi State.

But that was the rare instance in a 23-20 win last Saturday, as the punting and kickoff units shined.

Josh Growden — the SEC co-Special Teams Player of the Week — averaged 49.2 yards per punt, including two punts that traveled more than 60 yards.

The Bulldogs averaged only 13.3 yards per kickoff return. The Tigers currently rank fourth in the country in kickoff return defense, giving up 13.8 yards per return.

Aside from a fumble recovery, a turnover on downs and an onside kick recovery, Mississippi State’s average starting field position was at the 26-yard line.

Growden, who averaged only 32.4 yards per punt in the season opener, booted a career-long 65-yard punt in the first quarter, but his biggest contribution came in the fourth quarter. Growden launched a 61-yard punt from the LSU 17, flipping the field for the Bulldogs’ final possession.

“This game was a total turnaround,” fullback J.D. Moore said of Growden. “We all knew what he was capable of. I think it might’ve just been some first-week jitters in that Wisconsin game.”

LSU ranked 108th in the country last year in net punting, averaging 35.36 net yards. Kickoffs weren’t any better in 2015, as the Tigers ranked 113th in that category with a 58.04-yard average.

LSU has been far from perfect overall on special teams this year, though. Colby Delahoussaye has had two extra points blocked thus far. Westin Graves' perfectly-executed onside kick paved the way for the Bulldogs' final touchdown, which cut the deficit to three points. 

Moore, however, believes LSU focuses on special teams as much as any team in the country.

“I think that’s been a tradition at LSU,” he said. “But across the board at special teams, it’s been something we take pride in. I think we prepare more on special teams than a lot of teams do. We give it a lot of time during the week, and I think that’s starting to show in the success we’re having.”