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.
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Thanks for reading.
Ken Sugiura, Georgia Tech blog