Picture Pages: Punt Cover Peril

Submitted by Brian on September 20th, 2012 at 11:50 AM

I've been complaining about Michigan's punt coverage for a while now but it was a Notre Dame message board* that finally screencapped the thing. Here's Michigan's coverage at the point of the kick against UMass:

ONE

Q5ELs[1]

Couple of gunners with two guys on them, two guys at LOS with a blocker coming down the middle. This was a short punt by Wile that would have been fair caught around the ten if the returner hadn't fumbled it.

TWO

JpXU5[1]

Same, though the gunners are diving inside this time.

At the catch:

2J1mj[1]

That's a 31 yard punt and there is a ton of room for a return if the guy doesn't fumble it.

THREE

UI2wk[1]

Even worse as this time there's only one guy at the LOS. This one is the bomb.

hZ63y[1]

If these guys could catch any of these punts, there is room.

Spreadin' it

UMass uses the spread punt, which is now almost ubiquitous.

spread-1

When their punter contacts the ball,there are four guys already five yards past the LOS and a fifth is there.

spread-punt-2

None of the guys downfield is being dealt with by more than one blocker, and that heap at the top of the screen is comprised of four Michigan players blocking two UMass guys. This one was a duck that barely got more than 30 yards that Gallon stayed away from.

UMass's second punt is from the ten and is a line drive of about 35 yards. The director used an end-zone shot, but here's the catch:

catch-1

UMass's third punt was from the 42. On the kick:

spread-3

You've got the two guys M did in the center releasing; they're further downfield. There's a guy on the edge who is doing a crappy job of getting a release and two outside guys against single blocking who are free to run. This punt is a beauty that goes 45 yards in the air and is fair caught:

spread-4

And this is one of the worst teams in I-A.

Playing with fire

Michigan is doing it. They're giving back large chunks of the yards Hagerup's boomers are grossing and leaving themselves exposed to a game-changing return.

It's probably too late to do anything about this without risking a Boccher-style debacle, and I doubt Hoke has much interest in doing so anyway. On the upside, if opponents keep doubling the gunners you'd expect a fake to be pretty effective once you're playing six on eight in the box. The opponent can choose not to do this if you're in a situation when a fake is a reasonable possibility, though, and then you're stuck with two guys past the LOS when the kick launches.

*[I found it by looking at referrers; it looks like it wants to stay off the radar in case trolls or ND Nation admins descend so I'll forgo a link.]

Comments

hart20

September 20th, 2012 at 12:00 PM ^

Having the punt blocked. If any one of those 3 guys back there gets pushed back or even makes the slightest mistake, a good chance exists that the punt will be blocked. Whereas in a traditional punt formation, you don't often see the defense get as far into the backfield so quickly. I'll admit, I have no concrete data, I'm just basing this off of my own observations.

El Jeffe

September 20th, 2012 at 12:24 PM ^

And at least the pictures show that on contact, M had two "punt blockers" for three protectors (of the punter). So if the spread punt indeed is more vulnerable, M wasn't forcing the issue.

This might be one of the few MANBAW tendencies Hoke has actually shown, that is, in contrast to his red meat rhetoric for the fan base. It is pretty undeniable that if the UMass returner hadn't been a blind vertigo sufferer, they would have had at least 10-20 free yards.

I worry less about M's more traditional punt coverage giving up a touchdown, since those are pretty rare events overall, but when you give up 10-20 free yards on, say, 6 punts (against teams with good defenses), those free yards and first downs start to mount up. I hope Hoke sees the light in the offseason.

snarling wolverine

September 20th, 2012 at 2:06 PM ^

This might be one of the few MANBAW tendencies Hoke has actually shown, that is, in contrast to his red meat rhetoric for the fan base.

Has he really thown a lot of "red meat" to the fanbase? I've never understood where this "manball" stuff is even coming from.  Hoke ran a spread offense at Ball State and used some shotgun at SDSU.  He's never had only one way of doing things.  He's always been flexible.

El Jeffe

September 20th, 2012 at 2:30 PM ^

I only know what I read--quotes about "we're gonna run power; we're gonna run the power play" and all that. At least early on I think it's fair to say that his rhetoric was more along the lines of "smashmouth B1G football" than "newfangled trickeration."

By the way, that's not a criticism of Hoke. I think he has turned out to be one of the most small-p politically savvy coaches we've ever had. Bo terrorized the media, Lloyd disdained it, and Rodriguez was at least somewhat naive. Brady hits all the right notes, even when they aren't necessarily 100% the truth.

BornInAA

September 20th, 2012 at 12:07 PM ^

If we are going to the spread punt we need Denard back there.

But seriously, 75% of the time (no reference link - gut feeling) Michigan has had crappy special teams in the 40 years I've been following them.

Guys like Don Bracken, Ali Haji-sheikh, Rivas, Epstien, Hamilton, Mesko is about it unless you go back to Tom Harmon.

UMgradMSUdad

September 20th, 2012 at 12:12 PM ^

I did not notice the details of what was going on, but I did notice that for all UMass's punts, I believe Gallon only tried to return one, and that should have been fair caught.  They had several guys bearing down on him after every punt.  On our punts, rarely was there a Michigan player in sight as each punt was received or dropped.  Now I know why.  

We have among the nation's best coaching minds dedicated to coordinating and planning the offense and defense.  Our punting schemes seem like an after thought in comparison.

909Dewey

September 20th, 2012 at 12:20 PM ^

Brian

I can't find any 2012 UMass every snap offense video but I swear we had a less than classic more rugby/spread style punt formation in the 4th quarter.  One of our last posessions.  Please look and either verify that it exists or verify that beer causes halucinations.

 

AC1997

September 20th, 2012 at 12:20 PM ^

I realize this subject will go over about as well in a press conference as a bubble screen, but I'm wondering if some added data would help to allow the question to be asked in a way that Hoke would be inclined to answer it.  Perhaps the following:

  • Number of opponents who use conventional versus spread
  • Number of B10 teams who use the spread
  • Gross versus Net punting for Hagerup this year as compared to freshman year
  • National average gross/net comparison by style of coverage used

I'm concerned that Hoke looks at the special teams coverage and thinks "our gunners aren't good enough, let's put a starting CB on that unit to make them better" rather than "this configuration isn't good enough and exposes our gunners to big returns or injury". 

M-Wolverine

September 20th, 2012 at 1:12 PM ^

It'd be nice if there was someone else who could explain it to us instead of him.  Which is what I think he was asking for.  Obviously there are a whole bunch people who coach and are good at what they do who go the other way too.  Doesn't make them right and Hoke wrong, or vice versa. Just a list of the benefits and risks of each would be educational.

AC1997

September 20th, 2012 at 12:23 PM ^

I'm not sure how to collect data on blocked punts as compared to style of coverage used, but I don't think the spread gets blocked more.....it just looks a little scarier because guys are getting closer to the punter.  I thought I remember someone trotting out a stat when Rodriguez switched to it that they were actually very hard to block. 

I think the onus is on just those three protectors to know their job really well.  You usually pick bigger guys that won't get blown over but also are somewhat athletic. 

ST3

September 20th, 2012 at 12:23 PM ^

In the first photo under "spreadin' it," Michigan has 6 defenders lined up against 3 UMass players, only one of whom is an eligible receiver. On the other side of the field, we have 2 against 2. This makes no sense to me. It's almost like we are trying to bait them into running a fake punt to that weak side of our defensive formation. Granted, it was 4th and 15, so a fake is not in order, but why are we lined up like that?

turd ferguson

September 20th, 2012 at 12:23 PM ^

I'm pretty convinced that the spread is the way to go, and I'd love to see Michigan do it... next year.  Like you said, the catastrophe probability from a mid-season switch is high enough that the costs probably outweigh the benefits.

Needs

September 20th, 2012 at 12:25 PM ^

Why is it that interior linemen on the spread punt can be downfield before the ball is kicked? I thought that was illegal man downfield, but I'm clearly mistaken.

RakeFight

September 20th, 2012 at 12:26 PM ^

So how is this fixed?  Is it formation?  Is it speed?  Is it getting off blocks (a recurring theme this year)?  Is it throwing in a fake or two to keep the other team off guard?

Space Coyote

September 20th, 2012 at 12:57 PM ^

But I don't really understand this one. From what I've seen, the spread punt doesn't get blocked anymore and the coverage is better. The only thing I can think of is that this gives guys experience with an NFL style special teams, making borderline guys a little more attractive to NFL people because they have experience. Even typing that seems like a reach, but there may be a slight benefit from it.

Sidenote: the NFL rules don't really allow for the spread punt, which is why you don't see it there.

M-Wolverine

September 20th, 2012 at 1:09 PM ^

I think a lot of the MB complaints are overblown...but I wonder why in this case we're so opposed to spread punts. I haven't done or seen any data, but even beyond returner decision making you can just see there's not much place to go when we're fielding punts.   And while I think there ARE some problems with strength and accuracy with the soccer style moving kicker that can be a problem, the formation itself rarely is (on face).  He can just stand back there and kick from that formation.  Maybe they don't feel they have anyone to coach it, but it doesn't seem like it'd be that hard to learn. And Hoke was gone by the time the 2003 debacle happened, so it's not like he's suffering from  PTSD. I'm not saying there can't be plus or minus values for both, I'd just like someone to spell them out.  If our coaches won't answer in  press conferences there must be some football coach/mind around here who can point out the value of each formation.

tf

September 20th, 2012 at 1:05 PM ^

Heiko and his badgering/mind control got Borges running bubble screens early in year 2.  I assume you'll be deploying Heiko against Hoke and traditional punt formation immediately, and I further assume Michigan will be  punting from the spread (although Hoke will initially call it something cooler like "X-Ray punting") no later than the start of next year's B1G season.

bob8202

September 20th, 2012 at 2:13 PM ^

College coverage rules are entirely different than the pros.  Anyone can go downfield in college.

My view is that the spread IS more likely to result in blocks.  I don't have any empirical evidence for that, but see the attached article: http://host.madison.com/sports/college/football/article_8e6e8932-02c1-11e1-94dd-001cc4c002e0.html 

Regarding our net punting, I posted the following in a thread about BH's Monday presser.  There are a few references to previous things in the thread, but it still makes sense and supports my claim that our net punting is just fine.

_____________________

"Well, I'm lazy, too, so I resent that your response required me to research facts to support my thesis, namely, that our net punting is just fine.

Hagerup's gross punt average is 49.0. His net punting by game has been 37.1 (Bama -- average return 8 yds.), 45 (Air Force -- 0 returns), and 53 (UMass -- negative 7 yards per return).

Wile's two punts were gross 28 yards. Neither one was returned, so his net is also 28 yds.

So, after doing the math (the details of which I'll omit unless questioned further), we find that Hagerup's net punt average on 11 punts is 44.7 yards. Only four punts have been returned for positive average. I haven't checked, but I would guess the 44.7 net that exceeds all but a dozen or two NCAA FBS teams' GROSS punting.

If you include Wile's two punts, neither of which was returned, our net team punt average is 42.2.

So, reporters, please reconsider the premises of your questions. "

Well, I'm lazy, too, so I resent that your response required me to research facts to support my thesis, namely, that our net punting is just fine.

Hagerup's gross punt average is 49.0. His net punting by game has been 37.1 (Bama -- average return 8 yds.), 45 (Air Force -- 0 returns), and 53 (UMass -- negative 7 yards per return).

Wile's two punts were gross 28 yards. Neither one was returned, so his net is also 28 yds.

So, after doing the math (the details of which I'll omit unless questioned further), we find that Hagerup's net punt average on 11 punts is 44.7 yards. Only four punts have been returned for positive average. I haven't checked, but I would guess the 44.7 net that exceeds all but a dozen or two NCAA FBS teams' GROSS punting.

If you include Wile's two punts, neither of which was returned, our net team punt average is 42.2.

So, reporters, please reconsider the premises of your questions. 

 

MinWhisky

September 20th, 2012 at 5:32 PM ^

Would love to see more detailed analysis of UofM's punt return game during the past two years, particularly in this year's Alabama game.  I don't have quantitative data, but my strong recollection is of Gallon letting way too many punts hit the ground instead of fielding or fair catching them, resulting in big-time loss of yardage and/or change of field position.  

KickRocksKid

September 21st, 2012 at 7:55 AM ^

This is why he was gunning against Alabama. Seems like the gunners in michigans scheme needs to be fast and sure tacklers. The punt he was hurt on was the best one covered that I saw so far this season.

Asgardian

September 21st, 2012 at 1:17 PM ^

Didn't Hoke make a presser comment that Hagerup was outkicking his coverage too much?  Drive punting for distance as opposed to hang time, that is.  I used to say what's wrong with the NFL style until I learned that the rules are different.  Now I lean spread punt, but I think the punter is important too.