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Moco's Special Teams Roundup (long)

by Pat (Moco), Slave Den, Brian Cook's Basement, Monday, September 02, 2013, 21:51

OK, so my plan is to have this be a weekly breakdown of special teams from our games and a look forward to the following week about what we may be able to exploit. For time/space reasons, I may skip over several things but if there’s something I forgot or if you want to discuss it further, by all means raise it. This post is long so I apologize in advance for that.

By way of background, I am not, nor was I ever, a college football player. I kicked/punted in high school and am a self-described Special Teams Nut. I was an award winner at the 4th Down Sports football camp when I was in HS and have read multiple books on special teams (including, but not limited to the works of Bill Renner) so I’d like to think I have an idea of what’s going on. Seriously, I can tell what happened to a punt or kick based on the spin of the ball--not kidding, Terp can attest to this. SO, on that note, ON WITH THE PLAYS!

Today I’m going to go over the kickoff, kick return, punt, punt return, and field goal units. I’m not going to go over FG defense because it’s basically a straight-up rush. On the lone blocked kick, Jones got great pressure up the middle and because he’s just enormous, got his hand on it. That’s all you can ask for from a FG rush.

Brindza handled kickoffs over the weekend. He had 5 of them, booting 64.6 yards per kick with 2 touchbacks. Given the camera angles on TV, it’s hard to gauge what exactly the coverage is for ND on kickoffs, but I imagine it’s something similar to a lane-system, where each coverage guy holds his lane and slowly converges on the kick returner. Something like this:


The coverage unit, overall, was average. Brindza had a net of 37 yards on his kicks. Temple started their returned drives on the 30, 19, and 41. The first kickoff following our TD had a decent hangtime (just under 5 seconds) and fell about a yard or 2 deep in the endzone. The return man brought it back to the 30 finding a hole but it closed quickly. Brindza’s second kickoff landed out of the back of the endzone (caught but the return man was on the back line of the endzone). It had a much lower hangtime (about 4 seconds) but he booted the hell out of it. The third kickoff, after Niklas’s TD, had a hangtime of just under 5 seconds, landing on about the goalline (similar to the first kickoff). It was returned to the 19 because of great coverage. The fourth kickoff, just after halftime, also had a hangtime of about 4.5-5 seconds, landing on the goalline. This was Temple’s best return because of a missed coverage on #23 Lo Wood, who utterly overcommitted from the outside and missed the tackle, giving the Temple return man clear daylight to the 41 yard line.


The last kickoff from Brindza came after our last TD. Brindza also booted the hell out of this one, kicking it about 5 yards deep into the endzone where it bounced out the back for a touchback.

I think we saw two types of kickoffs from Brindza in this game. The first, which the coaching staff has clearly been working on with him, is the hangtime kick where it lands about a yard or two deep in the endzone. The other is the low, line drive boot where it gets a touchback. I think Brindza can do both but the coaching staff tells him what to do depending on how the coverage unit works.

Kick Return

ND only had 2 kick returns in this game (amazingly). One came from the opening kickoff and the other following Temple’s lone touchdown. ND had 40 yards on these returns. The first kickoff had about a 4 second hangtime and was returned to the 23 by Atkinson. The second kickoff was also fielded by Atkinson, a short return that he caught about the 13 yard line and returned to the 33. Overall, because of the crappy kicker Temple had, our return men didn’t have a lot of room to run with the ball but like Kickoff Coverage, the unit as a whole was about average. 20 yard returns are decent and serviceable. Atkinson’s big problem, as a return man, is that he doesn’t kick it into high gear. As a return man, you have to be fearless—get to top speed as fast as possible and run until you hit a wall. Atkinson tried to find holes and the hesitation can cost a team 5-10 yards in return yardage.


ND had 5 punts for a total of 206 yards. This is good for an average of 41.2. 32.4 of this was net. 2 of the 5 were inside the 20, 2 were touchbacked, and 1 was fair caught. People will piss and moan about the touchbacked punts and I think they should; it’s sacrificed field position. First, the first punt was a dud—Brindza just tried to hang it up and his leg is just too strong and the ball got away from him. Keep in mind he booted it 47 yards plus into the endzone—that’s an incredible show of leg strength. The 2nd punt he got a lot of it as well and it ended up going THROUGH the goal posts. There’s an argument to be made that at 4th and 5 from the 37 yardline, Kelly should’ve gone for it or attempted a field goal (it would have been a 52 yarder). I think this was a bit conservative call on Kelly’s part. There’s definite good things to see there from Brindza’s leg strength but I think if there was no doubt that we could stop them on defense, Kelly may have made a more ambitious call on some of the punts. Brindza’s other punts were for 44 yards (fair caught at the 17), 43 yards (returned 4 yards but a 10 yards illegal block call brought it back), and a 35 yarder to the 18 which was muffed and recovered by our favorite Italian linebacker, Carlo Calabrese. In limiting the returns, I think our coverage unit here was excellent, especially since they were able to recover a fumble—the only turnover recovery of the game.

Punt Return

This is the unit I think a lot of ND fans were looking forward to before the season, especially considering the criticism that ND got from having a lack of a punt return. I have some thoughts as to why this is the case, including but not limited to the advent of the spread punt formation.

Temple had 5 punts on the game for 240 yards, an average of 48 yards and a net of 39.4. 2 were inside the 20, 3 were over 50 yards, and 1 was booted into the endzone. TJ returned 3 of them for a total of 23 yards. That means we returned 60% of the punts in the game, an absolute improvement over last season, in my opinion. As for the returns themselves, my thoughts are mixed.

Temple’s first punt was booted 51 yards and downed at the 13. In hindsight, this didn’t matter because we scored 3 plays later, but against a better team, this may be a cause for concern. The second punt was kicked 50 yards to the 5 yardline where Jones decided to return it for 5 yards to the 10.


At the time of the kick, you can clearly see 2, if not 3 Temple guys running almost untouched downfield to cover the punt. In a spread formation, the defense, if they are going to attempt a return, has to at least BUMP the guys to screw up their timing and create time for TJ to attempt a return. This is a failure on the return team’s part.


As you can see from this, Lo Wood and Devin Butler (who is oddly absent from the box score), didn’t pick up their guys and TJ is left trying to get by at least 2 men. The other 3 Temple players behind them are also basically unblocked and this is tough for any return man to attempt to get through.


Here, TJ caught it and was immediately hit by Lo Wood’s guy. In my opinion, TJ should NOT have caught this and let it bounce—if it gets into the endzone, you have better field position. If not, it’s a damn good punt which is rare. Eventually, TJ was brought down, and it’s amazing he broke as many tackles as he did. A return guy can’t be expected to do everything and this is reason numero uno why our return team is questionable.

For time and space purposes, I’ll just highlight that one with pictures. In short, our coverage unit HAS to do a better job of sticking with the gunners if any return is going to be successful. TJ had a 12 yard return which was brought back by an illegal block and a 6 yard return in the 4th quarter. I did want to highlight the return coverage on TJ’s last return:


Here, you clearly see he has a man ready to block for him and the gunners are well covered by their defensive counterparts. THIS is what ND needs to do if they want to be successful. If the punt didn’t bounce/wasn’t shitty, TJ arguably would’ve had a longer return.

Field Goal

Much dismay was shared over the missed FGs in this game and I’d like to share some thoughts on them. First, and I explained this to Terp after the game, kicking a football is a lot like swinging a golf club; it’s mostly mental and you do your best when you have good muscle memory. When you try to swing a golf club hard, you fuck up—the same goes with kicking a football. This is what happened on Tausch’s missed field goal:


You can see from the aerial that he looks off-balance but up close it’s easier to see:


Here, it’s plain as day. Tausch rushed his approach and planted far too close to the ball. This gave him little leverage and so he tried to power it into the FG and failed miserably. The best explanation of this is if you ever went from kicking off a platform and then tried kicking off a ground. You have to adjust your plant and you have to adjust your foot. Tausch was fine when it came to the XPs but this one he rushed, tried to overpower it, and this was the result. It’s not as bad as a problem as some make it out to be, and I think the fact that they put Brindza in to kick the second one was a bad decision. Kicking is mental and you HAVE to stick with your guy if he fucks up once. If he was terrible all game, then maybe make a change, but he was perfect from XPs so I would have kept him in.

Now let’s look at Brindza’s:


Here, the contrast with Tausch is evident. He’s much more balanced and got excellent power on it. His problem was he hooked it because of his plant foot. As a right-footed kicker, you have to adjust your aim when kicking from a hash. When you’re on the right hash, you aim for the inside of the near goal post (the right post) because the natural leg movement is to hook it. When you are kicking from the left hash, you have to adjust your aim to the inside of the FAR goal post because of that natural leg reaction. You saw that with Brindza’s kick—it hooked almost perfectly and sailed wide left.

People will give our kickers an F for this game and I think that’s fair given the result, but it’s not like these are terrible problems that cannot be fixed.

Looking forward to Michigan

Last season, I made a post that shared my hope that ND could exploit Michigan’s terrible punt coverage. Michigan, last season, was one of the few teams in college football that neglected to utilize the spread punt formation. The traditional punt formation places an emphasis on keeping the ball inside the outside gunners—but it also relies on those outside gunners getting downfield to make a play. Michigan did a piss poor job of doing that last season and it was only a matter of time for a team to exploit it. Have they changed for this season? Well, their opening game was an absolute rout vs. Central Michigan. Michigan punted ONCE in the entire game. It was a 51 yard boot and was fair caught.

Can we exploit their coverage this year? You bet your ass.


Michigan still utilizes the traditional punt formation, as evidenced by their lone punt vs. CMU.


The ball had to be fair caught on this kick because BOTH Michigan gunners absolutely blew by the defense guarding them. Is this a cause for concern? Possibly, but look at the bright fact of this picture: THE NEXT DEFENDER IS 20 YARDS BEHIND THEM (that is his foot on the left-most portion of the screen). If we can guard the gunners, we are going to have ourselves a field day in the punt return department.

As always, if you have any questions, feel free to let me know and to discuss. Moco out.

special teams


BK said Luke blocked Kyle's path to the ball

by JN @, Seattle, Tuesday, September 03, 2013, 09:46 @ Pat (Moco)

and that the coaches took the blame for that miss. Can you explain that?


Was this on the field goal?

by Pat (Moco), Slave Den, Brian Cook's Basement, Tuesday, September 03, 2013, 09:53 @ JN

If so, that's not a good excuse, Brindza hooked it because of plant and his aim. Blockers has nothing to do with it IMO. Plus. The posts are huge. Unless Luke was lying across Brindza's helmet, he should have been able to aim for the inside of the right post.


The FG. Luke was the holder

by JN @, Seattle, Tuesday, September 03, 2013, 09:54 @ Pat (Moco)

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Oh Massa.

by Pat (Moco), Slave Den, Brian Cook's Basement, Tuesday, September 03, 2013, 09:58 @ JN

Then I slightly revise my statement (I thought Cole Luke was blocking or something).

Yes. The holder has to anticipate the aim but at the same time, Brindza has to tell him if he's turned too far in. They do this when Brindza sets up--he should indicate where he wants the hold and where the holder needs to set up and THEN take his steps back. I'm assuming Massa was set up for a normal kick when his hold should have been a little more open. Personally, if that's the case, then it's still as much Brindzas fault as it is Massas. I'm on the road so ill take another look at it when I get home.

Too many damn Lukes.


Beat me to it - I was curious about that too

by Brendan ⌂ @, The Chemical and Oil Refinery State, Tuesday, September 03, 2013, 09:48 @ JN

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Listen to the voice of Life, and you will hear Life crying, "Be!"


Follow up rant

by Pat (Moco), Slave Den, Brian Cook's Basement, Tuesday, September 03, 2013, 09:32 @ Pat (Moco)

I spoke to Terp about this but there is a clear difference between coverage units and return units. Coverage units get to hit, with the only worry being contain and holding the lane. Return units need to recognize the lanes and block. In that sense, the best players on the field need to be on the return unit. IMO, there's no reason why guys like Devin Butler should be on the field on return units. I'm sure Devin is a great player but we should have guys who are skilled stalk blockers and know positioning on the field for returns. Maybe he showed it in practice and im just whistling dixie but he sure as shit looked like crap during the game. I'd also hope the coaching staff takes another look at Lo Wood on special teams. He was an enormous liability out there.


Excellent, excellent work. Thanks.

by BillyGoat, At Thanksgiving with Joe Bethersontin, Tuesday, September 03, 2013, 07:34 @ Pat (Moco)

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I thought TJ was a huge upgrade

by HumanRobot @, Cybertron, Tuesday, September 03, 2013, 06:58 @ Pat (Moco)

Overall he made very nice decisions, I thought, and showed some good moves. I know you'll dispute the decision field the punt at the five, but the rest of his decisions seemed pretty sound to me.


The last one was arguably also bad.

by Pat (Moco), Slave Den, Brian Cook's Basement, Tuesday, September 03, 2013, 09:28 @ HumanRobot

Temple's third put bounced and TJ fielded it in traffic. He had blockers but it would have been equally as smart to let it go and give it the Peter call.

I wouldn't describe his performance as great or even good. I may get flack but I would say he was "recklessly lucky." Of the 3 punts, he probably should have returned one of them. Special teams is special for a reason; it requires the most brain power from multiple people on the field at the same time. A single fuck up has huge ramifications. Whereas a normal offensive play requires thinking regarding yardage, special teams impacts position and points, immediately. If TJ muffs that 5 yard field, we have ass field position or, at worse, Temple has a 5 yard field to score. Michigan, if we don't get bogged down in our own end like last year, is a team we can exploit but TJ, and the unit as a whole, has to be smarter.


That was my take

by JN @, Seattle, Tuesday, September 03, 2013, 09:34 @ Pat (Moco)

Catching a punt at the five and scooping up a bouncing football with defenders nearby are both recipes for disaster. I hope he does neither v Michigan.


great post

by Jay ⌂, San Diego, Tuesday, September 03, 2013, 06:48 @ Pat (Moco)

Do you think they should switch to Wulfeck for pooch punts or do you think Brindza is capable of shifting out of boomer mode?


I think it depends.

by Pat (Moco), Slave Den, Brian Cook's Basement, Tuesday, September 03, 2013, 09:21 @ Jay

I'm on the road so I can't make any diagrams but I think Brindza can do it if he becomes directional. He should try to "coffin corner" his punts; imagine a 5x5 yard rectangle in the corner starting at the goal line out. The other term would be "kick to the pylon." As a very special teams fan, I abhor the hang time kicks because you're relying on your coverage unit to make a play, where if you directional the thing, the kicker is in control.

Ultimately, Brindza has to be smart enough to know what to do. If he adjusted his drop maybe 3-6 inches higher, he would have gained hang time in lieu of distance. It's heartening to see that he absolutely kicked the snot out of the ball when he had the chance but twice the circumstance didn't call for it. Would Wulfeck make a difference? I can't say for sure; I've never seen him kick and the coaching staff has, so I defer to them. That said, I also think this coaching staff treats special teams as the red-headed step child of the team--arguably my only gripe about them.


Could it also be that they want Kyle to practice?

by JN @, Seattle, Tuesday, September 03, 2013, 09:38 @ Pat (Moco)

Maybe they wanted to test his ability to pooch in a game where we had a clear advantage. Kelly seemed pretty confident during the entire game, so the difference in 15-20 yards of field position from a ball downed at 5 v. a touch back may have been outweighed by getting Brindza live game attempts in those situations.

This week, unless he's improved dramatically at pooch punting in practice, I hope he's not out there in that situation.


It wouldn't surprise me.

by Pat (Moco), Slave Den, Brian Cook's Basement, Tuesday, September 03, 2013, 09:55 @ JN

I'd bet ST doesn't get a lot of reps in practice and they prob dont want to waste time subbing punters in and out. I agree with you--it's not that Brindza can't do it, it's just that he didn't. If Wulfexk can, then by all means, get him in there.


this is tremendous - thank you

by Spesh ⌂ @, Los Angeles, Tuesday, September 03, 2013, 06:44 @ Pat (Moco)

I just hope there's no quiz. A lot to digest.


Sweet post Moco. Thanks.

by Mark, Cloud City, Monday, September 02, 2013, 23:13 @ Pat (Moco)

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