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June 2, 2009

Kickoff Coverage: 7 Yards that Make a Real Difference


This kid ain't the real problem (Image: Hipple)

Football isn't a game of yardage. It's a game of field position. That's why hidden yardage (non-offensive and defensive stats are so critical). Field position is also driven by those less obvious / hidden stats such penalty yards per game, punt/kickoff returns and coverage and turnovers allowed and created.

The Bulldogs have enormous opportunities for improvement in all of those areas. Over the next week or two, we'll look at some of the stats behind those areas. But first let's start with Kickoff Coverage.

Yesterday, Rex Robinson, former All-American kicker for UGA's national title team in 1980, explained how the NCAA has legislated touch backs nearly into extinction. He also talks about Georgia's directional kick strategy and compares it to a golf swing. Go read it and then come back.

Rex also talked about NCAA changes over the years such as moving the kickoff back from the 40 to the 35 and now the 30 yard line while shrinking the kickoff tee from 2 inches to 1 inch. He explains that what is being asked of our kickers in the directional kick strategy just doesn't work.

Here's more math / geometry / facts for you to add to his points.
  • 75 yards is a Long Ass Way -- FG kickers are considered exceptional if he can nail a 50 yard kick through an 6 yard wide goal about 60 percent of the time. The corner of goal line is 75 yards from the center of the field at the 30 yard line, and our kickers are being asked to kick the ball into an area not dramatically wider than the goal post. While also being asked to kick it higher than a FG attempt AND being asked for the ball to not bounce out of bounds.

  • The Best Aren't that Good - The Gamecocks landed an SEC best 25 touch backs last year which was 41 percent of their attempts. The third best percentage of touch backs was only 14 percent from Vanderbilt. That's a staggering drop off. Most of the SEC was in the 5-10 percent range. As Rex pointed out, the incoming JUCO kicker / hopeful kickoff savior only got 38 percent of his kicks as touch backs.

  • Sidelines are Fickle - As Rex points out in the comments section of his post, the ball has a tendency to go out of bounds when it's kicked near the sideline. It's no different than throwing a fade pass or deep ball along the sideline.
Rex's conclusion is: "I hope the UGA coaches let these two relax and kick it deep. Then cover the dang kick." Amen to that.

The other team will attempt a kickoff return 60 percent of the time even if your guy has an ENORMOUS leg. If his leg is merely mortal, it's coming out 85 percent of the time or more. To me that means...

It's not a KICKER issue.
It's a COVERAGE issue.


Which brings me back to my age old issue with this coaching staff. If you know the ball is going to be returned...and by strategy we're only kicking the ball to the 5-10 yard line each attempt...then put faster guys on the field to cover the darn kick.

It doesn't take a physics major to know that back-up fullbacks, long snappers, and walk-on safeties aren't as fast as Brandon James or Trindon Holliday. And third team QBs, while fast, aren't ideally suited for violent collisions, either.

Last year, Georgia finished 11th in the SEC in Net Kickoff Coverage at 40.3 yards. That means our opponents started post-kickoff (not including penalties on either squad) at the 29.7 yard line. That's 7 yards worse than the best in the SEC.

If you essentially spot the other guy a first down every time you kickoff, it's dramatically easier for him to score. What does 1 first down matter?

If your defense holds the other guy to 3 first downs from the 20 yard line, the offense will most likely be punting. HOWEVER, if you hold them to three first downs from the 30 yard line, they now have options like:
    A. Go for the Field Goal
    B. Go for it on 4th Down and extend the drive
    C. Punt deep inside your own 20 yard line
That's the hidden yardage that makes the defense's job difficult. It's 7 yards that can be fixed with better strategy and better player utilization.

Kickoff Coverage for SEC teams in '08


G No. Yards Avg. Return TB Net
Avg.
Starting Position
Kentucky 13 61 4,078 66.9 730 23 47.3 22.7
S. Carolina 13 61 4,165 68.3 783 25 47.2 22.8
Ole Miss 13 80 5,068 63.3 1,273 10 44.9 25.1
Auburn 12 48 3,058 63.7 838 4 44.6 25.4
LSU 13 76 4,629 60.9 1,234 4 43.6 26.4
Florida 14 109 6,765 62.1 1,906 12 42.4 27.6
Alabama 14 84 5,331 63.5 1,765 2 42.0 28.0
Tennessee 12 46 2,817 61.2 820 4 41.7 28.3
Vanderbilt 13 56 3,530 63.0 1,050 8 41.4 28.6
Miss. State 12 42 2,411 57.4 691 1 40.5 29.5
Georgia 13 77 4,591 59.6 1,408 4 40.3 29.7
Arkansas 12 53 3,182 60.0 1,226 1 36.5 33.5


PWD

33 comments:

jferg in NC said...

now the challenge...take what we mere mortals understand fairly clearly and get the coaching staff to buy into it. sure, that's bass ackwards from how it should be. but actions speak clearly that either the coaching staff doesn't understand this, they don't care about this, or they can't do anything about personell due to injuries. thoughts?

Anonymous said...

I would figure the GT game would be enough of a wake-up call. You're up 16 coming out of halftime, and immediately kick the ball out of bounds. Gee, no, we didn't want to retain momentum or anything.

Anonymous said...

Good work PWD! I certainly wonder if the coaching staff embraces this type of metrics and analysis. I really have no idea whether they do or do not. It seems like a pretty old school staff but I have no clue what goes on behind the scenes.

Football as a game, especially at the college level, does not seem as advanced in its scouting techniques for potential players, use of sabermetrics, etc.

Scott said...

And when the coverage breaks down, it's good to have a kicker who can force the other team to actually work for yardage instead of giving them a head start!

Jon Fabris said...

Math makes you soft.

Seth said...

I don't remember the sequence of events last year, but I wonder: what if the directional kicks started after the kickoff coverage got bad? Meaning, what if the coaches used the directional kicks to try to cover up an already poor coverage unit? Your point would make even more sense, then. Just cover the freaking kick. No gimmicks, no excuses.

Plenty of other teams with great special teams (see Virginia Tech and Ohio State) even use non-speedy guys (Ohio State even uses back up linebackers and fullbacks) to cover kicks. It might not even necessariliy be a personnel issue--it might come down to a coaching issue.

Paul Westerdawg said...

We've kicked directionally for years. The strategic decision pre-dates the move from the 35 to the 30 yard line.

The only kicker we've had who could AND was allowed to boot it out the back was Kirouac in '01. But he was kicking from the 35 and his leg (while in accurate for FGs) was massive for kickoffs.

Against the Vols, I remember he bombing several out the back.

Mr. Sanchez said...

Spread it on!
http://www.wonderland-site.com/pix/movies/film17-20.gif

I knew this was coming as soon as I read the Robinson stuff Paul. And additionally on Kirouac, besides what Robinson says was an ideal style of leg swing for kickoff, he also had the two inch tee to kick off, which makes a HUGE difference.

Kind of like Garner's supposed obsession with finding tall DTs to be the next Stroud and Seymour, I wonder if Fabris is obsessed with finding someone who can fill the unique boots of Kirouac.

The Watch Dawg said...

LOL @ Jon Fabris.

Mike In Valdosta said...

Amen, kick it deep and cover it

Anonymous said...

One of the reasons this year will be interesting to watch is to see whether our coaches will improve or adjust in the face of reality. I have come to the conclusion I would rather have a coach/coaches who have had at least some Pro experience so they have had to prepare and complete at a higher level. Coaches who continue to do the same thing year after year find themselves out coached at a certain point. The coaches should hold themselves to the same standards as they hold the players. Produce or be benched. I beleive that one of the reasons Stafford went pro was there was nothing else he could learn from our offensive coaches. I am not saying he was ready but there was nothing else to gain from repeating the same plays at the same times.

Buck said...

He explains that what is being asked of our kickers in the directional kick strategy just doesn't work.Gonna come back during lunch and read the entire thing but I laughed out loud when I read that sentence.

File under, "No Shit, Sherlock!"

Anonymous said...

Hallelujah! www.wedgeorgia.com

Anonymous said...

Fabris is in charge of the kickoff unit. Fabris is in charge and so on and on. No one on the staff wants to call his hand including MR.

Dante said...

"Imagine if you will, a professional golfer who is consistently able to drive the ball 300 yards with reasonable accuracy."

I keep hearing the premise that Walsh can consistently boom the ball out of the end zone, but I have to question the premise. As PWD has already pointed out, the coaches let Kirouac boom them during Richt's tenure. If they're not letting Walsh do the same, my immediate suspicion is that he cannot. The only reputable source I've heard claiming Walsh can consistently cause touchbacks is Kevin Butler who is one heck of a kicker but isn't with Walsh practice after practice.

I'm not saying I agree with the directional strategy but I doubt it's as black and white as you'd like to make it appear.

Paul Westerdawg said...

Dante,

Kiroauc was kicking off a 2 inch tee from 5 yards closer in than Walsh who kicks off a 1 inch tee.

So it's not a fair comparison.

Dante said...

Being a fair comparison isn't really important. I'm aware of the increased limitations that Walsh has placed on him compared to Kirouac. I'm not claiming Kirouac is a better kicker. I'm just pointing out that given the rules of the day, Kirouac was told to kick long and straight. If they're not telling Walsh to do the same, I personally believe it's because he cannot do the same given the conditions he has to kick under in today's game.

Anonymous said...

Kiroauc was kicking off a 2 inch tee from 5 yards closer in than Walsh who kicks off a 1 inch tee.But the point is that maybe Walsh can't kick them into the end zone. Maybe it is because he is having to kick them 5 yards longer using a tee that is 1" shorter but for whatever reason maybe he can't kick them into the end zone.

I agree with your assessment. It is not a kicker problem. It is a coverage problem. Better athletes on the special teams will cover a multitude of sins.

StandupifyourUGA said...

Directional kicking makes no sense. Takes a much stronger leg to kick it in the corner inside the 10 yard line than in the endzone. Shortest distance between the tee and the endzone IS A STRAIGHT LINE!. I think the coaching staff is just waiting for the kick to actually work so they can say I told you so. Seems like an unhealthy obsession

skidawg1985 said...

I would also add a stress factor to the directional kicks. If you let the kid boom the kick pretty much down the middle of the field or toward a hash mark, the margin for error is greater. Being off a yard or two is not likely to make much difference. However, being off a yard on a kick to the corner can be detrimental. I think that thought has to be in a kicker's mind and might be an issue.

I think the most telling stat is the median or possible average starting field position following a kickoff. (Some adjustment for penalties that result from moving the kick off up to the 40 for instance).

The days of kicking through the endzone are all but over (except maybe at altitude) unless the bigger tee is brought back. I like more returns however.

Carter said...

The kickoff coverage was atrocious last year because of all the injuries. If everybody wasn’t so banged-up, we could’ve had scholarship redshirt freshmen & sophomores out there rather than walk-ons.

What troubles me is wondering why CMR is unwilling to pull Fabris aside and say, “Look, directional kickoffs aren’t working and we need to change our philosophy.” I can’t think of a legit reason why this hasn’t occurred already. Are we that stubborn? Are we trying to spare Fabris’ feelings? I good CEO has to be capable of telling his mid-level managers when their performance isn’t up to snuff.

Anonymous said...

The football field is what 160 feet wide. Placing the ball at the 2/3's point between the sidelines makes the measurement 54 feet from the near sideline and 106 feet from the far sideline. Kicking off from the 30 yard line to the 5 yard line is a net of 65 yards or 195 feet. Basic trig tells us that in order to kick the ball directionally from the near sideline to the far sideline the kicker must be able to kick it 221 feet or 73 yards.

The kicker kicks the ball 73 yards to get the ball on the 5 yard line of the far side of the field. OR he can kick it 3 yards deep in the endzone.

Which would you prefer?

I'll take the 3 yards deep.

Anonymous said...

I have been watching this unit's inability to do two things. Hustle down the field and hit someone and make the tackle. We have too many guys who dance around trying to avoid the collision that comes with covering kickoffs. I imagine the old days when you just put a bunch of headhunters on the kickoff coverage unit to go down full speed and wreak havoc on the return team. That is why you put linebackers and fullbacks on kick coverage teams. They generally like the physical part and are also a bit on the crazy side to begin with. I agree kick the dang ball, cover, and tackle. The last part seems to be something that our coaches do not stress at all. Tackling involves much more than running into someone. You have to hit, wrap up, and drive through the guy.

Anonymous said...

Richt has admitted that the 2008 de-emphasized full contact tackling in practice due to the 38 injuries that we suffered.

I would expect that KO and Punt coverage in practice was not a full-bore speed.

Mike said...

"...then put faster guys on the field to cover the darn kick."

This is a great analysis. One possible issue with putting faster guys on kick coverage teams is the prospect of over pursuit. It would only be a matter of time before return teams figure this out and use your own speed and inertia against you to open the wedge.

Normaltown Mike said...

Last year on the 5th Quarter show, Butler would harp on the inability of coverage guys to "get off" their blocks. I'm guessing this is a veiled way of saying the guys running down the field aren't physical enough. Whatever the problem, I'm so sick of hearing Richt defend the directional kick. It's like his stubborn refusal to run anything than the sprint draw and the stretch play (back when he called plays). It just seems he loses the forest for the trees at times (or the game clock for the play clock for that matter).

IveyLeaguer said...

PWD,

Does that 29.7 starting position include the 8 kickoffs that went out of bounds? Doesn't look like it.

~~~

wfdawg said...

To me, kickoff coverage is just another example of something that has bugged me since BVG left, namely, quick adjustments. It seems like it takes forever before we realize something is broken and move to correct it these days. And that applies nearly across the board.

Irwin R. Flecther said...

OK...so you have a good premise. Starting position should have an effect on how effectively the other team can score the football...but where is the correlation with team defense?

Kentucky, South Carolina, and Ole Miss were middle of the pack in scoring defense. We're seperated by a yard on average field position with Tennessee, yet they gave up 16.8 ppg while UGA gave up 24.5.

Kentucky has led the league two years in a row in kickoff coverage and is last in scoring defense in the same time period.

I'm not saying it doesn't matter...being consistently bad at covering kicks isn't acceptable...but I guess I'm asking if changing our directional kick strategy is going to make one ounce of a difference and if not, maybe changing the entire philosophy behind our kicking (whether flawed or not) might not be the most efficient use of our time this offseason.

Paul Westerdawg said...

Irwin,

It's because it's not just one thing. It's one of a series of hidden yardage problems.

Another is penalties.

When you give the other team 1 first down per kickoff for bad coverage and then 1 for a penalty, you're only 1 more first down away from field goal range....or worse.

And that's what UGA is doing.

Ana said...

I know Georgia is missing some Herschel Walker that's forsure. I hear he's gonna be on the radio today @ 5:30-Fox Sports. Check it out.
-Ana B

Anonymous said...

ALl I will add to this is that it was a rare thing to see an opposing team start within the 30yd line this year. Cheers should be going up for keeping the other within the 20 and not the 30. Another problem was definitely the "getting off the blocks"- both on ST and D. When watching on TV it was a rare thing to see UGA players within the frame for a few seconds.

Dawg Stephen said...

well, we DID go out and sign the kicker. While i dont think that Coach Fab is gonna give away the TOTAL plan in an interview for the world to see, I do think we signed a kicker for no reason and it would be good to hear him say "There will be changes"

CMR said he would go to Poland if he had to in order to get a kicker who could "boom" it. Let's believe in our coach to get it right, he said he was lookin in the mirror and everyone else was doin the same

www.dawgstephen.blogspot.com

 
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