imagine the ferocity of James Franklin’s fist pump at this exact moment
Hello. Welcome to the inaugural 2017 Special Teams UFR. You like analyzing blocks on a kickoff return, seeing who got push on a PAT, and making fun of a decision James Franklin made in 2014? Great, we’ll get along just fine.
There are a couple of things worth noting before we dig in. First, special teams all-22 footage isn’t happening. It’s hard to find good footage; directors seem to use punts as their art house. That makes grading the blocking of each player on each unit impossible, so instead we’ll look at obvious gains and losses in terms of yardage. This is very much a work in progress, the point of which is to gain a better understanding of what’s going on in the third of the game that leads to Australians traveling thousands of miles from home to go full Superman on a prolate spheroid. Feedback? Hit the comments.
SUBSTITUTION/FORMATION NOTES: Peoples-Jones got five chances to field punts, did a nice job with two of them, then found himself on the bench in favor of Grant Perry. More on that later.
Kick returners were Crawford and Hawkins, with the ball never going anywhere close to Hawkins. He found himself forming a wedge with Mason every time.
Michigan’s PAT defense team is going to block one soon; with Metellus coming off the edge, Hurst teleporting through seemingly shoulder-to-shoulder linemen, and Rashan freaking Gary out there, it’s just a matter of time.
Cincinnati doubled Cesar Ruiz on every PAT and got knocked back the first time, then held his own. Not bad for a true freshman.
[After THE JUMP: Charts! Then Bolded Alter Ego (NTBAE)! Then more charts!]
Field Goal Defense
Well that was eventful.
It certainly was. Foug’s kicks were arcing rainbows of success.
I meant the punt returns.
Perry did a pretty good job with his fair catches, though there was that one that got over his head.
PEOPLES-JONES’ PUNT RETURNS C’MON
You know, you’re lucky I even attempted to use the alter-ego format.
Whatever, it’s probably Creative Commons licensed.
But yes, Peoples-Jones’ punt returns. They are very much the returns of a guy who doesn’t have a ton of experience but does have a ton of athleticism and knows it. At the same time, there were a few outright poor decisions.
Who died and made you king of special teams?
No one, but watch this and tell me you don’t see a ghosted Peppers fielding this with a swath of green in front of him.
This is a tracking issue. The gunner shoves his man past Peoples-Jones, giving him plenty of room to take a couple of quick steps forward and field it on the run. The problem is that DPJ has run over and set up on the opposite hash from where he started and yet he’s still two lateral steps away from where the ball’s about to hit.
The most noticeable issue with Peoples-Jones’ next return is communication, but there’s a subdermal tracking issue as well. On one hand, St-Juste could probably pull off his block and get out of the way if Peoples-Jones calls for the fair catch earlier. On the other hand, he gets steered into Peoples-Jones’ path by the defender; if he can just keep the Cincinnati player on the hash this is an easily fieldable punt. I took the yardage gained on Cincinnati’s free possession and split it between Peoples-Jones and St-Juste because you really can’t have one without the other.
Peoples-Jones fielded two punts early in the second quarter and added a couple of bonus yards gained to his chart before another tracking folly knocked him out of the game. DPJ is at least two yards to the ball’s left and a yard behind it when it hits the turf. This time there are no gunners or other blue jerseys (or white, for that matter) for yards in every direction.
I tracked yards in the air in the punt return table for occasions like these. This travels 52 yards, which was Smith’s second-longest punt of the day. That doesn’t matter. Peoples-Jones’ issue isn’t that he’s too shallow, it’s that he’s taking his steps to gain depth while drifting to the left; meanwhile, the ball’s headed for the middle of the field. He would have been able to field the punt if he had pedaled straight back.
So we should freak out, yes?
I can’t believe you want Ann Arbor Torch & Pitchfork to go out of business. Why don’t you support local businesses?
I…do? Check our sponsors. Anyway, what’s relevant is discussing Michigan’s decision to put Grant Perry into the game to return punts.
Obviously it’s so he could break one. That’s what punt returners do.
Very nuanced. No, I don’t think that’s why they inserted Perry. He came into the game so that Michigan would stop bleeding yards or, even worse, giving away possession. Perry was in the game for his ability to get under the ball and fair catch it. Perry’s in-game exploits as punt returner were wholly uneventful until Smith booted one 60 yards with a minute left in the fourth quarter that went over Perry’s head.
So who’s the punt returner against Air Force?
If I had to guess, Peoples-Jones. He’s got the most upside and agility, and he was obviously out there because the staff thought he was the player most likely to give them the best field position and/or take one back. The yards gained column bears that out. Perry was a stopgap when things went haywire, which isn’t a bad card to have in your hand. Even so, Harbaugh said that after watching the tape some of what happened was on the gunners and that Peoples-Jones would be back out there soon. I assume he’ll be out there again barring a bad week of tracking the ball in practice.
What about kick returners? Are there any Peoples-Jonesian guys over there?
If you mean in terms of tracking it down, no. Kekoa Crawford did a fine job of that. If you mean in terms of agility and ability to change direction in small spaces, I think the answer’s no but I’m less convinced than before. Crawford did show that he can stick his foot in the ground and hit a gap with speed.
Yes, I forgot to fill in the total. You’re reading a Michigan blog, do it yourself. He finished with –2 yards produced because he missed a chance to get to the sideline and cut upfield on a mid-fourth quarter return. Crawford did do the thing where he sticks his foot in the ground and explodes through a tiny space, though, so he showed some of what’s in his toolbox as a returner at the expense of two yards. Everything else was him surveying what he had and taking it to the natural endpoint, i.e. the place where the unblocked white shirts converged. Not a bad day overall.
All this talk about returners and you haven’t even mentioned Special Teams Player of the Week James Foug.
That’s fair. Foug made for an exceedingly boring chart, which I’m learning to appreciate. He knocked it into the end zone on six of seven kickoffs, gaining distance as the game went on. He did his job well, and he’s one of the few guys it feels like you can extrapolate a bit from his performance because it usually takes a while for someone to do something seven times on special teams.
Will Hart shanked two kicks. Why isn’t Brad Robbins in yet?
The two shanked kicks were bad and were made worse by the total lack of pressure he was under. They were bad punts. They were bad enough that I didn’t include Hart on the yardage gained or lost chart because how can you tell where that could have gone when it looks like it was destined for the other team’s bench from the minute it left Hart’s foot? Naturally Hart follows up his two shanks with one booted under duress 58 yards in the air to the sideline. Punters are categorized as #collegekickers, right? Keep an eye on Hart going forward as much for the five good punts as the two awful ones.
Anyone else stand out on punt coverage?
Hey, it’s your first good question of the day. There was one person.
On the punt at 9:26 in the third quarter, Hudson got off a block and tripped up the returner with the violent grace that only he can muster. I only gave Hudson six yards of field position produced because there’s a good chance Glasgow and Cheeseman would have made the tackle if Grant had cut upfield on the hash mark. If he had bounced it around McDoom, who knows.
Let’s talk about PATs.
Indeed, let’s. There wasn’t enough data to made a sound judgment on anything Michigan was doing with their PATs. They’re definitely going to block one soon, though.
How dare you jinx Michigan.
I promise you I don’t have the power to jinx Mo Hurst or Rashan Gary, but I do have the eyes to see that holy crap they’re lining up their best defensive linemen on the PAT block team and there’s a point where teams won’t even get to pick their poison, Hurst will just phase through the line or Metellus will get it off the edge or someone will throw a flag on Rashan Gary and he’ll Jumpman-logo the point after.
Now you sound like a homer.
I’m just reiterating what I saw. Good players are good.
Not your best work, Brian.
Wait, what? I’m Adam. You can check the byline but come on, you’re my bolded alter-ego. This is a thing that I’m positive you know.
Just talk to the people about Saturday, Ace.
What does it mean for Air Force and beyond?
Hart’s the punter. If he was going to get pulled it would have happened after consecutive shanks. Instead he went back in and nailed his best punt of the day. I’ll be shocked if he’s not the starter on Saturday.
Wild thing. You make my heart sing. Except in the last game, but that’s because you weren’t asked to do much of anything.
The kickoff cover team has been good, but the return team hasn’t opened up much space. See kick return chart above.
Peoples-Jones as PR: probably. It’s not about the timing of his go/no-go decision-making, it’s whether he can physically position himself in the right spot to field a kick that isn’t headed where he started at.
Gonna block a PAT. Maybe not Saturday, but then again...
The tables will look better next week. Got an HTML generator from Seth I didn’t have time to implement. I’ll clip more things, too.