Tech special teams not great

Paul Johnson on the ACC coaches teleconference on special teams Wednesday:

“Well, I think in some areas they’re improved, and in other areas we took a step back. We had a terrible blunder last week that created a safety. We did have a couple of nice punt returns and gave up a long kickoff return. So it’s been a mixed bag.”

Some (actually, a lot) numbers:

1. Tech’s net kickoff average is 37.2 yards, meaning that opponents’ average start is the 27.8-yard line. The net is 11th in the ACC, which surprised me because it’s seemed like it’s been better. Last year, the average start was the 28.1-yard line, which was ninth in the league. It’s not an apples-to-apples comparison, because the kickoff line was moved up five yards and touchbacks are now returned to the 25.

To compare, the top six kickoff cover teams forced average starts at the 21.4, 23.5, 23.8, 23.9, 25.5 and 26.

This year, it’s 21.2, 21.9, 23.3, 23.4, 23.7 and 23.7. So the better teams are doing slightly better, though at a greater rate than Tech. The best kickoff teams are either forcing touchbacks or pinning opponents inside the 25.

Kicker David Scully has 11 touchbacks on 27 kickoffs. Tech had eight touchbacks last season on 80 kickoffs. It’s a big improvement, although the moved-up kickoff line obviously has a hand.

2. Tech’s average start on offense after kickoffs is the 30.7, part of which has to do with some of Tech’s opponents not having very good kickers. The average kickoff distance has been 53.9 yards, compared to 61.4 for Tech. Tech’s longest return thus far is 32 yards, by Orwin Smith. The average return has been 17.7 yards, eighth in the league, compared to 19.2 last year, which was last in the ACC. The long return Johnson referenced was a 46-yard return by Miami’s Duke Johnson (no relation).

Another comparison – the top six return averages last year in the ACC were: 26.5, 23.1, 22.3, 21.9, 21.6 and 21.3.

This year so far, they’re 33.9, 26.6, 26.2, 24.6, 23.8 and 21.9.

So they’re up across the board, but Tech’s returns are worse. That includes Smith’s safety, though. With that removed, the average is 19.5, marginally better than last season’s average. The point could be made that fielding shorter kickoffs has hurt the return average. I don’t know if the same could be said for other ACC teams.

Neither the ACC nor the NCAA ranks teams by kickoff return starting spot, which is a more useful statistic than return average, in my opinion. That really burns me. (Actually, it doesn’t.)

3. Tech’s punt net is 37.5 yards, sixth in the ACC. Last year, it was 36.9, also sixth. Tech has turned to true freshman punter Ryan Rodwell after Sean Poole suffered an upper-body injury (looked like either a shoulder or collarbone) making a tackle last Saturday.

4. Tech’s punt return average is 15.2 yards, fifth best in the league. With only six returns, it’s weighted heavily by Jamal Golden’s 56-yard return against Miami. Last year, it was 8.1 yards, sixth in the league. Regardless, it’s worth noting that Golden’s return was the longest since the 2009 season. Golden will likely get more opportunities Saturday. If he can become a threat, that would significantly improve the special teams group.

A lot of numbers, I realize. Sorry if that’s not your thing. It’s early to render a sweeping judgment on new special-teams coordinator David Walkosky. Obviously, the averages and ACC rankings are skewed by the small sample size and the fact that, for instance, Tech has played three ACC games and some teams haven’t played any. Tech has been close on a couple punt blocks but has also come close to having its own punts blocked.

Walkosky is clearly doing some different things, like using different formations and having Poole rugby punt. Several starters are involved on the different units. Golden’s return (he also had a 28-yarder) suggests the potential for more big plays, but Duke Johnson’s long kickoff return would indicate that coverage needs to be tightened up, as well.

As Johnson noted, thus far it’s been a mixed bag.

In case you missed it…

Looking for a pass rush

Trials challenging Louis Young

Lee, Snoddy angling for playing time

Tech rebounding after Miami loss

Paul Johnson, fount of hope?

Johnson calls loss ‘my fault’

The meaning of Tech giving up 609 yards

After Miami loss, Tech tries to regroup

Mark Bradley: Johnson’s approach hurting Tech

Thanks for reading.

Ken Sugiura, Georgia Tech blog

61 comments Add your comment

Jacket Detective

September 27th, 2012
3:40 pm

We are having a debate.
The voting is to be done Saturday.


September 27th, 2012
3:54 pm

“Neither the ACC nor the NCAA ranks teams by kickoff return starting spot, which is a more useful statistic than return average, in my opinion. That really burns me. (Actually, it doesn’t.)”

LOL – that’s funny, Ken!

yeller bug

September 27th, 2012
4:11 pm

@JD: Emotionally, I’m with you and would rather go for it on 4th and 1. Make your own destiny. I guess it depends on how you weight the probabilities of potential outcomes. If we assume that GT would have 60% chance of making the first down, then failure is 40%. Assuming Miami would probably have an 80% probability of scoring a TD from mid-field (we hadn’t stopped them in the last 5 drives), then the chance of Miami scoring the game-tying TD if we go for it on 4th and 1 is 32% or roughly 1 in 3. I would think that you would expect odds of 1 in 4 (25%) or 1 in 5 (20%)that after punting the ball Miami would have to traverse a long field with 2 minutes to play and 1 timeout to score a TD. So if these probability numbers are relatively accurate the better odds was to punt. However,the bottom line is we should have stopped them.


September 27th, 2012
4:23 pm

yeller bug,
I think the percentage on 4th and 1 is higher than 60%… after all, our overall 4th down conversion rate is 63/122 or 52% in the CPJ era. Just my two cents, though.


September 27th, 2012
5:39 pm

I have a different take about the assistant coaches. None of them have the authority to be on the field during timeouts (except for the sidelines). Only CPJ should go out on the field to talk to players. These coaches are a bunch of losers and not doing anything but jinxing our team. STAY THE BLANK AWAY. None of you need to walking out there like your are somebody because you are not. Believe you me.

yeller bug

September 27th, 2012
6:55 pm

Maybe GTFan…it was less than a yd, but we drew a goose egg down on the goal line in OT on 4th and 1…so say it’s 70%…then Probability of UM TD is now 24% and thus its a toss up on whether to punt or not. My point is that punting was not a bad call…although like Jacket Detective I’d rather go for it and that is normally the CPJ MO. I’d rather go down swinging with our offense then depend upon an inconsistent D. Besides, UM may have scored so quickly from the 50 that we may have had enough time to drive down for a FG.

George P. Burdell

September 27th, 2012
7:07 pm

If we did pull a win out over ,maybe a beaten up, and looking ahead U.G.A team,this would turn out to be a great year ,in my book.Stranger things have happened.T.H.W.G.


September 27th, 2012
8:30 pm

“not great” is a hell of a lot better than “completely sucks”….I really thought for a moment that Tech was going to be able to say the same thing about the defense this year…

Ken Sugiura

September 27th, 2012
8:59 pm

Duke Johnson’s return was on a kickoff in the second quarter. Mike James returned the punt after the safety.
Thanks, Crackbaby.
interesting take, Truth Hurts. if they’re the losers you believe them to be, i think tech has much bigger issues than them jinxing players by coming onto the field during the game.

[...] Special teams not great [...]

Chuck Allison

September 28th, 2012
2:29 pm

Ken, when you are reporting stuff to Tech fans, you never have to apologize for numbers. Engineers are all about numbers. Without numbers, your column would not mean much to us. We are different.