Upon Further Review 2017: Special Teams vs Air Force Comment Count

Adam Schnepp September 22nd, 2017 at 10:04 AM


gone [Upchurch]

Substitution/formation notes: As far as I could tell, coverage and return units featured the same personnel as they did against Cincinnati. The most noteworthy non-change was Donovan Peoples-Jones as punt returner—more on that after the jump.

Michigan’s formations were the same as they’ve been, but they brought pressure on punts and field goals infrequently. Earlier this week Chris Partridge said that they try to limit instances where they bring everything to keep the defense guessing. When Michigan doesn’t bring pressure on punt return, sometimes just one guy will release toward the shield, and even then he will sometimes stop and peel back before hitting the shield. On field goal defense, Michigan only brought pressure from one side and had Lavert Hill step to the line and hold on the other side. As close as the game was, Michigan decided not to gamble. Thanks to Donovan Peoples-Jones, that worked out.

[After THE JUMP: don’t have to bring the house when you take it to it]

Kickoff Return
Play Qtr Time Score From To Player Rtn Rlt
Corner L 1 15:00 0-0 35-L EZ N/A TB M25
Booted out of the back of the end zone
Center 1 0:02 3-3 35-L EZ Crawford 16 M15
Crawford catches it a yard deep and takes it out of the end zone. Should cut this back to his left; can't tell exactly how much extra yardage that would get, but bare minimum lost is 10 yards from passing up the touchback.
Right 2 8:37 6-6 35-L M15 Hawkins 16 M31
Hawkins' vision is great here. He slows to make a tackler miss and cuts to the outside; all told, he gains six yards of extra field position.
Corner L 3 11:54 16-13 35-L M1 Crawford 19 M20
Wedge takes care of the left side. Crawford has one unblocked man to make miss and just eats it. Would have gained at least five yards if he had gone around Hawkins.
Play Qtr Time Score Kicker From To Rtn Rlt Tackle
Corner L 1 10:51 3-0 Foug 35-L O2 15 O17 Wroblewski, Schoenle
Ball is placed at the left hash. Foug drops it two yards short of the end zone and is devoured quickly. Yardage saved credited to team since it takes Foug and his coverage team both to stop the returner short of the 25.
Corner L 2 11:48 6-3 Foug 35-L EZ TB O25 N/A
Ball is lands in the middle of the end zone.
Corner L 2 0:04 9-6 Foug 35-L EZ TB O25 N/A
About a yard away from going out of the back of the end zone.
Corner L 3 15:00 9-6 Foug 35-L EZ TB O25 N/A
Over the deep man's head and into the middle of the end zone.
Corner L 3 13:51 16-6 Foug 35-L EZ TB O25 N/A
Lands a yard into the end zone.
Corner L 3 2:59 19-13 Foug 35-L O2 17 O19 Woods
Another one dropped at the two and another return squashed short of the 25.
Corner L 4 14:15 22-13 Foug 35-L O3 12 O15 Ross
Dropped short of the end zone, returned a few yards, again stopped by multiple converging defenders.
Corner L 4 1:02 29-13 Foug 35-L EZ TB O25 N/A
Hits three yards into the end zone
Punt Return
Play Qtr Time In-Air Yd From To Player Rtn Rlt
Right 1 8:08 56 O20 M24 DPJ FC M24
A fair catch is fine. This was fine. Called for the FC with gunners three yards away.
Right- Sideline 2 3:22 32 O8 O40 N/A N/A O40
Slow, looping shank made more interesting because Michigan only rushes one and even then he pulled up before contact with the shield.
Left Hash 3 13:51 64 O14 M22 DPJ 79 EZ
There's no big block, he just sees a lateral lane, takes it, and outruns everyone to and down the sideline.
Right (outside hash) 3 8:21 40 O10 50 N/A N/A O43
Communication issues seem to be resolved.Everyone clears away from the bounce, and it ends up gaining Michigan yardage.
Middle 3 1:26 66 O5 M29 DPJ 25 O46
Peoples-Jones' speed allows him to get to the sideline and past two defenders. He then slows and throws a headfake that gets him past another defender before being pushed out of bounds. He picked up six extra yards with the subtle slow-and-stare move; #59 has to think about breaking down to tackle and freezes.
Middle 4 4:50 48 O25 M27 DPJ FC M27
Seems to have figured out that the sweet spot for calling for a FC is with defenders three yards away.
Play Qtr Time Kicker In-Air Yd From To Rtn Rlt Tackle
Left Hash 2 5:54 Hart 57 M28 O16 FC O16 n/a
Fair catch called with Thomas in his face and McDoom gaining ground.
Right Hash 3 10:27 Hart 52 M14 O34 FC O34 n/a
Punt travels along the right hash. Hart did well to even get this away; AF tried to hide a guy behind three, then looped him through one gap to the right. This turns into a 2-on-1, but it's relatively slow developing.
Left sideline 4 6:16 Hart 36 M24 O40 OOB O40 n/a
Directional punting can sometimes be too directional, and that's the case here.

Going to try to have a WildThingchart ready next week. For now, charting is taking place in the notes section. DO=dead on, MA=marginal, IN=inaccurate.

Field Goal
Qtr Time Ln Dn Ds FGDis Hash
1 10:55 O17 4 8 35 Left
2 11:48 O8 4 G 26 Left
2 00:04 O31 4 17 49 Middle (left)
3 3:04 019 4 11 29 Left
4 14:19 O18 4 10 36 Right
Field Goal Defense
Qtr Time Ln Dn Ds FGDis Hash
1 00:02 M20 4 G 37
Only one rusher comes off the edge. Cut block in the middle prevents three guys from getting vertical as they fall over each other.
2 8:37 M33 4 8 50
No pressure through.
4 7:19 M20 4 12 37
Wide left. Edge rusher gets through unblocked to the kicker's left, but the kick's away before he gets there.

Well, that was a day of really big positives and relatively large negatives.

They let you do this again?

No one told me not to, which seems as good as a yes. Anyway, let’s get to the reason we’re all here.

Bashing unbolded alter-ego.

Talking about special teams.

Donovan Peoples-Jones went from hmmm to hero pretty quickly.

He did. He’s a supremely talented player and wasn’t likely to sit for long, but his performance is even more impressive given that it’s impossible to tell how a freshman is going to respond to what was a clear benching against Cincinnati.

Taking one back should erase any concern there. Kid knows how to MAKE PLAYS.

That was certainly impressive and was one of the best returns we’ve seen in a while from the standpoint of pure speed and athleticism, but it wasn’t the return that stood out to me.

Ha, you couldn’t sound more pretentious if you tried.

The thing about Peoples-Jones is we’ve seen him play in high school often enough to know that a return like that is exactly the reason he’s out there early in his freshman year. Things like communication on a short punt proved to be an issue in week two, so this punt from the third quarter was the biggest bright spot to me.

Think back to how the punt that hit St-Juste’s foot against Cincinnati and then watch the clip above again. Nary a Wolverine in sight this time. Partridge talked about how important it is for DPJ to communicate since he’s the only player on punt return who can actually see the ball, and he does an excellent job here clearing everyone out. The difference between calling it and clearing everyone away and waiting too long can be possession, so this is huge.

You make a good case but it still seems very hipster-y.

Fine, let’s talk about the return he took back.

That sort of looks like he just outran everybody.

I agree, it does. Let’s check out the reverse angle thanks to Ace’s OFAAT post.

Look at the way he widens to the left to pull everyone that direction all the while knowing that’s going to spread guys out enough to create a lateral seam that will take him to the opposite sideline. If Peoples-Jones just cuts that up the middle of the field he’s absolutely getting tackled; those guys are coming downhill at best and moving laterally at worst. Widening causes the Air Force defenders to stop and change directions, at which point at least three guys are too deep to have a reasonable shot at closing the gap. This return doesn’t even have a single big block to focus on; that’s not to say the return team didn’t do their job, but Peoples-Jones set this up expertly.

So you’re saying you’re a terrible evaluator and shouldn’t have been so negative last week.

Not at all. There were communication issues and tracking issues and I ended up tagging People-Jones with 12 net yards lost. Quite a different story this week.

PR Summary
Player Returns YdsGained YdsLost TotalYds SsnYds
Peoples-Jones 4 86 86 74

I’d be remiss to move on without talking about Peoples-Jones’ fair catches. Prior to the Air Force game he was waiting until the last second to signal; whether this was due to difficulty tracking the ball off the punter’s foot, supreme confidence in his ability to juke his way out of a phonebooth or both is unknown. What we do know is that there’s a pattern emerging. Peoples-Jones is starting to signal for a fair catch with the gunners/defenders three yards away, which gives him time to make the catch and his gunners time to pull away.

Welp, at least one return game got fixed.

Look, I… yeah, that’s actually fair. “Fixed” might be premature, but it’s trending upward. The kickoff return game is not.

It’s only been three weeks—and I only have numbers from two—but the video evidence and table paint an ugly picture.

KR Summary
Player Returns YdsGained YdsLost TotalYds SsnYds
Crawford 2 15 -15 -17
Hawkins 1 6 6 6


There is a caveat, and that’s small sample size. Fifteen of those yards of lost field position came on two returns, one of which was a bad decision to carry it out of the end zone.

There are undoubtedly some issues with the blocking on kickoff returns, but that’s not the case here. Poggi sees the guy who eventually gets Crawford has gotten through and does a nice job wheeling around and sealing him away. Crawford, though, doesn’t see this guy until he’s a yard away, at which point cutting it back doesn’t have a chance. To make matters worse, Crawford’s running to the side with two unblocked dudes and still doesn’t think to cut it the other direction until he’s a yard away from getting wrapped up. Ten extra yards of field position are available if he just kneels upon catching.

This one was tougher to judge, so I’m interested to hear what you guys think. I gave Crawford negative five yards here because he could have followed Mason and Hawkins and tried to turn is up the sideline, and even if the man Hawkins is blocking gets Crawford he’s going to have to get off a block and that won’t happen until about the 22-yard line. I could see applying the negative yardage to Poggi for blocking the guy Watson’s coming off of and not noticing the unblocked man behind him, but Crawford cuts up and away from his blockers instead of following them out.

All you do is talk about returners but kickers (and punters) are people too, you know.

I do know. Thing is, there’s not much to talk about with Nordin. He was again excellent. People are starting to take note; the profiles started to roll out this week. His haircut is a source of great joy for the fanbase and increasing trepidation for Ace.

Foug has been incredible and is actually a weapon. He’s starting to drop it short of the goal line and let his coverage team work to cut down the returner short of the 25 and it has worked every single time. It deserves its own—

[Deep breath, this is your moment] CHART
KO Summary
Player Returns YdsGained YdsLost TotalYds SsnYds


24 24

As for Will Hart, I’m fine with what he’s done. I get why some people are in the Brad Robbins camp, but the punt that went out of bounds this week was intended to go that direction. Harbaugh said they’re asking him to directional kick, so there must be a pretty high level of trust established between Hart and the staff. There was one against Cincinnati that he did pin in the corner along the sideline, so we’ve seen what can happen when it goes well. This is an inexperienced player gaining experience on the fly, and I don’t think replacing him with a true freshman changes that. Maybe if the issue was Hart being unable to kick it deep and with adequate hangtime, but that’s not the source of the shanks.

What does it mean for Purdue and beyond?

Donovan Peoples-Jones: quick fixer? Another week of signaling fair catches with room to breath and clearing out landing spots should be enough to declare week two miscues a blip on the radar.

U PIN IT TO THE SIDELINE. Hart seems fine to me, but keep an eye on whether any directional kicks are called this week.

Foug drops it short, allows the parademons to maintain order. The combination of Foug and the coverage team is turning into a bigger field-position weapon than the kickoff return game.

Crawford’s job is up for grabs. That’s no surprise on a Harbaugh-led team, but how short is the leash? We certainly haven’t seen enough of what he can do in a game; there’s mounting evidence, though, that it’s a net negative in terms of yardage. Has he performed well enough in practice to maintain his status? 



September 22nd, 2017 at 10:20 AM ^

Partridge made it sound like the kick return blockers needed to improve quickly while Crawford was doing a fine job. I think Crawford has fine straight line speed, but he's not really shifty on his returns nor has the vision of a guy like DPJ.

I'd love to see DPJ or McDoom get a shot back there. I thought Hawkins return against AF was actually more promising than any of Crawford's. 


September 22nd, 2017 at 11:00 AM ^

DPJ just got shoved into a starting role on offense and is the starting punt returner. Taking him out of practice on offense to do more special teams seems less than ideal. I'd be fine if they put McDoom back there, but I assume that he has issues handling the catch or something if he's not already back there.


September 22nd, 2017 at 12:57 PM ^

Crawford must show the best ball security out of other guys like McDoom and Nate Johnson. I think Ambry Thomas would be an interesting candidate, but again, Crawford probably showed the best ball security out of any of the other young guys. Unfortunate we don't have an upper classman that can be a dangerous returner. 


September 22nd, 2017 at 10:28 AM ^

is not one thing about Crawford that screams "kick-off return guy" to me.  I am suprised that he is back there.

2.  While he is a bigger guy, DPJ is very Breaston-y on punt returns.  Shifty, great vision, long strides, can seeminly change sides of the field in two strides.  Breaston excelled at both punt and kickoff returns.  Not sure why DPJ is not being utilized in both roles as well.

Wallaby Court

September 22nd, 2017 at 10:41 AM ^

As to your last question, I suspect DPJ only returns punts because he's still a freshman. Harbaugh said as much after the Cincinnati game.

I suspect the coaches only want him to miss to a limited number of offensive reps for special teams reps while he is developing as a receiver. If DPJ's marginal utility is higher on punts than kickoffs, then that's where his available reps get spent. As the season progresses, DPJ may start taking over kickoff returns as he develops more comfort with the offense.


September 22nd, 2017 at 10:34 AM ^

I've been frustrated with just about every Crawford touch this season. He doesn't feel explosive in the return game, and his run after catch ability on offense hasn't provided any evidence to the contrary.

His first catch of the season vs Florida he lit at least 15 yards on fire by catching a drag and running directly at a defender between him and the sideline instead of cutting upfield. Not to mention the drops.

I hope he puts it together to be a reliable target for Speight, but its past time to stick anyone else back there on kick returns. Guys with more explosiveness: DPJ, McDoom, Ambry Thomas, Nate Johnson... I'd love to see Higdon back there.


September 22nd, 2017 at 12:51 PM ^

I get some of the frustration, he is one of the "older" guys in the receiving corps, which just shows you how young this team really is. The kid is 19 and we need him to perform at an extremely high level as a true Soph. With Black going down with injury, Kekoa needs to really become more of a leader and keep his hands on the ball. Him and Perry need to be safety valves for Speight, or the passing game is going to be in a hell of a lot of trouble. 


September 22nd, 2017 at 11:03 AM ^

He executed his assignment and made the play.

If you are looking for me to gripe about that play, I can. He was wiiiide open and still needed to go to the ground to make the catch instead of adjusting to the flight of the ball. I didn't think much of it then because he made the play. After watching him fail to adjust to the underthrown deep ball last week, that is very close to being a pattern.


September 22nd, 2017 at 12:00 PM ^

Noticed that too for our home sideline last week. I'm assuming it's from the field turf being so old that it's stretched it certains ways where the out of bounds line is all wonky. Makes it look like a base line chalked by a drunk baseball coach.

6th Blagdon

September 22nd, 2017 at 11:02 AM ^

Watching Crawford last week, I ended up feeling like simply getting the ball out to the 20 was about the best you could hope for. He just looked really tentative on every return.


September 22nd, 2017 at 12:00 PM ^

Needs to be more decisive and run at higher speed on his returns. He looks like he is running half speed waiting for something to open up and then it's too late.


September 22nd, 2017 at 1:03 PM ^

Purdue is horrible in kick-off (and punt) cover. Their net on kick-offs is 35 yards !!! That is at the bottom of all college football. ESPN rates their special teams efficiency as 15th worst in the nation! There is a lot of field position available in this game using the best return guys we have. I would turn DPJ loose on both punts and kicks.


September 22nd, 2017 at 1:20 PM ^

I'm always hesitant to use starters on special teams when we're limited on depth there.  Now that Black is out, regardless of what you think of Crawford as a returner, it might be time to give someone else a shot just to avoid him being hurt.

Right now with limited data it seems like Crawford is trending more like an Adrian Arrington, Jason Avant (without the hands), etc.  He has to fix the drops and get more chances, but what we've seen so far points to a reliable chain mover, hard worker, good blocker, jack-of-all-trades type of receiver.  He has not shown any explosiveness or one WR-skill that stands above all else (leaping, 50/50 catches, route running, hands, deep speed, etc.).  When you combine that lack of explosiveness with a couple of high-profile dropped passes you get the torch & pitchfork crew fired up.  

Personally, I think kickoff teams are where you put some of your best athletes who can at least eat up that minimum yardage quickly and make that one cut to free themselves up.  Heck, maybe if Isaac is the clear starter at RB you give Evans some chances on KO returns.  


September 22nd, 2017 at 9:44 PM ^

You should start tracking and posting the hangtime on punts and kickoffs. I think that would be an excellent addition to this UFR. From the eyeball test it seems Foug is putting tremendous air time on his kickoffs. Also, I thought a lot of Hart's punts seemed more of the low liner variety compared to sky scraper boots when they weren't shanked. I hope I'm wrong.

Good stuff Adam.