someday I hope to be as happy as Robert Landers (far left) [Fuller]
Ohio State’s punt coverage team is pretty good. Drue Chrisman, Ohio State’s punter, is really good. As a unit, they’ve allowed four returned punts for a total of 55 yards this season. Forty-two of those yards came on this play.
[After THE JUMP: more on both returners, parsing the punting, appreciating James Foug]
|Low burner. Mason misses a block but gets enough of a shove on his guy to get him momentarily off balance. Thomas (+7ds) stutter steps and clears that guy but can't shake off an ankle tackle.|
|Hits at the 13 but fielded off a hop at the 8. Initially thought about crediting Wangler with negative yardage but there's a guy in his lane and I'm guessing he lets #47 go thinking he'll be taken care of by the wedge. [Extremely Ron Howard voice: He isn't.] Mason and Hawkins (-10yds) botch a switch, with Mason bumping Hawkins and taking the man on the left, whom Hawkins eventually blocks after Mason falls off. All this while #47 gets a free run at Thomas, pushing him back to the 15 before tackling him by the laces.|
|Thomas gets what's blocked for him. He sees a fairly large lane between Poggi's and Mason's blocks (+10yds each) and takes it. Watson does everything he can to stay on his block, but one outstretched arm from his guy is enough to bring down Thomas.|
|Thomas almost fielded it and made the intelligent move to back off and let it sidewinder itself out. He read the spin well, because otherwise it looked tempting to grab this off a hop and take it. Thought about giving Thomas yards but decided to add a new column to the KR Summary table instead: opposing kicker (+27yds)|
|Thomas drops the ball in the end zone. Mason throws up two stop signs and makes it exceedingly clear that Thomas needs to down it.|
|Catching the ball at the 1 and being pushed into the end zone is a pretty awful situation. Matters are made worse when Thomas makes the first bad read that I can recall this season, verring away from the lane up the middle of the field in favor of one outside that never opens. There's a good chance he's hauled down by one of the OSU players at the bottom of the screen coming off St. Juste or Hawkins' blocks, but that's going to end at least five yards further upfield.|
|Weber steers left and runs into his own man, whom Glasgow (+3yds) has fended off and pushed back a few yards. Glasgow tackles high and Weber slips away, but Woods (+3yds) wraps up a leg and pulls him down.|
|A casual fumble is then casually one-handed and casually dropped again. Mike Weber handles the ball like I handle food I drop in the kitchen when the dog's outside. St. Juste and Kinnel are coming in with a head of steam when Weber finally downs it for a touchback.|
|Kicked to the back third of the end zone and downed by Weber.|
|Samuels gets too wide; he has a chance at this if he takes a better angle, but instead overruns the play (-6yds). Mason crushes a dude but in doing do turns the his back to the running lane and can't correct in time to make a diving stop. Went back and forth but not giving him negative yards because he's not in position to make a diving tackle if he doesn't crush the initial blocker. Woods flies in (+2yds) and lays the Ol' J'Marick Woods.|
|OSU's three gunners are really serious about lane integrity, I guess. They all get as deep as Peoples-Jones but don't veer into the middle toward him; the left gunner is held off by Michigan's coverage, the right one gets a step but is too deep to get to DPJ, and the guy in the middle tracks the ball and seems to not realize there's a punt returner on the field. DPJ (+8yds) fields it, sees two OSU players coming free, and veers toward the sideline. He gets himself extra yards by trying to move on a diagonal instead of trying to phonebox-juke his way past multiple guys, which was what he attempted the week prior.|
|DPJ steps up to field this at the 45 and has to quickly back up as it just keeps going and going and going. Peoples-Jones (-2yds) fields this while stepping back, which he's done to great success all season. He's made a habit out of causing the first gunner in to fly past him, but this time he gets pulled down. Spot seems generous; they spotted this at the 38, but it looks like Peoples-Jones rolled over Okudah. Wouldn't have been surprised if they put this at the 34.|
|I be like dang. Discussion below. OSU is called for holding, which moves the ball to the 5.|
|What a strange punt. It's so short that there's no chance DPJ can field it. There are also three OSU players running at him, so calling for the clear out seems like the right move. Just going to place blame on the ball (-17yds) for rolling and rolling and rolling.|
|Peoples-Jones is drifting to his right when he signals for a fair catch with a short, choppy motion over his shoulder pad. Okudah is five yards away and I guess he has his head down or momentarily loses the connection between thought and action or maybe he just makes a stupid play. He kinda-sorta pulls up but still runs into DPJ, so maybe he's just slow to process the FC signal. It's a 15-yard penalty that moves an offense in need of good field position from the 17 to the 32.|
|Michigan has three guys split wide and is bringing pressure because of how deep OSU is in their territory. One of Michigan's gunners (can't immediately tell) runs inside his OSU counterpart, who chooses to release straight down the field. OSU has two men back to absorb pressure and the one on the right doesn't notice there's a guy flying past him until, well, a guy has flown past him. Chrisman's punt isn't blocked but it's definitely short-legged, as it only travels 37 yards in the air. It takes a nice roll if you're OSU, though, eventually being downed at Michigan's 49 (-11yds).|
|Michigan drops Glasgow to act as a second personal protector because Michigan's pinned deep in their own territory, and this means they have just one gunner downfield at the time of reception. Two OSU players wall off Schoenle, then Wangler (-3yds) misses a diving tackle. Watson eventually pushes the returner out.|
|An easy tell when trying to figure out whether a punt is better or worse than expected is where the returner moves to adjust to the ball as it's in flight. In this case, the returner moves up seven yards. Yeesh.|
|First punt was fair caught at the OSU 22, but was then re-kicked with a 5-yard penalty for illegal formation which I did not see live and do not see on film. Two egregious missed block-in-the-back calls on the second punt, too. Having to re-kick results in a brutal 25-yard swing in field position.|
|Can't tell who it is because Fox cuts in late but one of Michigan's blockers missed edge pressure and the punt almost was blocked. This is Robbins' second longest punt of the season and his longest since the State game. Schoenle misses his tackle (-5yds) and Glasgow misses his, but he gets a pass for being popped in the back to the point where he is sent airborne. Another no-call, but it pushed Hill to the sideline enough that he stepped out on his own.|
|Coverage team tries to get there but the spin pushes it into the end zone. They never really have a shot; the punt's just too long. Does provide something of a gauge for what Robbins can do if he just tries to hit it long and in the middle. In other words, the oft-short punts are the ones that should start disappearing as he gains experience.|
|Schoenle gets down the field in a hurry, and between that and Robbins' punt drifting left (or maybe that was intentional) Hill has to fair catch it.|
|I give up. There are no trends with the punting this season, just inconsistency. This is well blocked and somehow turns into a 42-yard pop fly. Glasgow flings himself at the ball and that's great for Michigan because this thing is spinning in Ohio State's favor. He saves at least five yards, and that's assuming that someone in the next wave of players has it bounce near enough to him to down.|
I just can’t believe they let you do another one of these when you’ve predicted exactly zero things correctly this season. Do you remember last week when you thought you’d spotted a trend in Robbins’ punting? What was the trend you spotted?
To be fair, it did sort of look like there was kind of a trend emerging by the second quarter of this game if you throw out that one bad punt.
You do know what a trend is, right?
I do, and I know this punt ensured there wasn’t one.
Robbins was able to boot three punts over 50 yards and two over 60 in this game and yet still couldn’t manage to avoid interspersing these in there.
This came to define his season. He was a really hard player for me to get a hold on because there wasn’t a clear progression or regression, just a guy who could explode in any direction. Sometimes he was launching balls that were no-doubt fair catches with plenty of hang time, other times he pushed returners to the sideline or well inside the 20, and still other times he dropped punts 15 yards short of the returner and not in a way that seemed intentional. The hope for next year is that he gains better command; he could instantly go from ehhh to excellent next season if all he does is stop being erratic when kicking from around Michigan’s 45.
Might as well talk about the the other bad thing.
Might as well. Nordin had an extra point blocked due to a missed rusher on the interior. There was also edge pressure that forced Gentry to pick one of two guys, and he wasn’t able to get any contact on the rusher furthest outside.
To his credit, the rusher to the inside gets off the ball very quickly and is all over Gentry. It looks like he hooks him and ensures that Gentry can’t shove the outside rusher. It wouldn’t have mattered even if he could, as there’s interior pressure allowed as well. An OSU player knifes into the gap between Cole and Poggi and bursts through, getting a hand up and blocking the kick. The kick itself, the snap, and the hold all looked fine.
How about the other bad thing?
Yeah, it was not the best day for Ambry Thomas. Started well, though.
Thomas stutter-steps and then elongates his stride to glide past the first OSU player who’s come free from a block. He’s only able to get two additional yards out of the move, but it’s another example of the elusiveness he has by way of an impressive ability to shift speeds on the fly.
Then that just disappears.
Thomas could run straight at #47, get tackled, and still end up with better field position than he gets by trying to run horizontally to the sideline. I know he’s thinking he can loop around his wedge and turn this upfield on the other side of that, but there’s another unblocked player waiting on the other side of the wedge. Combine all this with what he showed in the first return and the better move would have been to take #47 one-on-one given all the space around him to make a move.
It happens again on the next return, with Thomas deciding to bounce this way too early. It’s well blocked to the interior and he could take that lane up the middle of the field to at least the 20. I included these returns in the discussion portion not so much to point out a job poorly done but because it’s so out of the ordinary. Thomas has otherwise been excellent this season whether we’re looking at his on-field judgment or elusiveness. Someone would have to be really, really talented to unseat him next season. Chalk the two bad returns up to freshman mistakes, because the table shows that he’s made quite an impact since taking over against Purdue.
This discussion is fine and worthwhile and whatever but you really need to move on, you’re losing the reader
Right. Let’s talk about James Foug.
You have a lot of faith in this fanbase to make a discussion of the kickoff specialist your way to reel ‘em back in, though it is merited
It really is. Foug’s ability to consistently drop kicks at the one- or two-yard line has been amazing, and credit goes to his coverage team for taking those kicks and making sure they’re a poison pill for the opposition. I went through my spreadsheet and found four kicks all season that were returned past the 25-yard line, and two of those were taken to the 26 and 28. The furthest a kick was returned was the 35, and that was a dang squib that only went to the 13-yard line and took a Foug tackle to prevent a KO return TD. Preventing that TD also made Foug chart second highest in yards gained by a kickoff team member.
What if you recast Superfriends using Foug and the guys on the kickoff return team and—
I am not writing a listicle, and I’m definitely not writing one that’s that nerdy.
But how many more clicks do you think your stuff would get if you did just write listicles?
…I think we should talk about Donovan Peoples Jones.
CHART IT UP
The yards, they are many
And the ones on the long return were created by Peoples-Jones, too. Let’s not start there. Let’s start with the one bad return.
He got –2 yards on this return and obviously I put the –2 in the chart but this is the kind of gambling I can live with purely because he’s made the first guys in miss so many times this year. He habitually steps back to give himself sort of a sprinter’s staggered start instead of catching flat-footed and taking off, and here he tries to combine that with a turn to get skinny so that the gunner flings himself past. It doesn’t work, but you can tell how commonplace this is from Hudson’s reaction. The gunner gets a step on Hudson and after a couple more strides Hudson just lets him go and decides that he should just turn and block at the next level and let Peoples-Jones handle the charging gunner himself.
The reason that losing a couple yards every once in a while is tenable is the correction Peoples-Jones made in one week on returns like the one above. Peoples-Jones found himself in a similar situation against Wisconsin: a wall of unblocked guys in pursuit and a decision needing to be made. Against Wisconsin he saw the two unblocked players and tried to juke his way into a new lane; he was quickly hewed down. There’s a big difference between slipping past two guys converging on you and trying to outjuke a line of coverage. Here he sees the unblocked players coming free and decides to get whatever extra yardage he can by getting them in a foot race on a diagonal to the sideline. Harbaugh has said multiple times that Peoples-Jones doesn’t make the same mistake twice, and this is good evidence to support his claim.
Now take that ability to make week-to-week adjustments and add in a couple of qualities you’d want in a return like, say, shiftiness, athleticism, speed, strength, and vision. Baby, you’ve got a stew going.
First he pulls the rug out from under two guys at once by stepping back and pushing off laterally. He then starts to turn it upfield and gets the next free hitter to take a false step with a quick juke to the inside, which is enough to throw off the hitter’s distance and therefore timing of his tackle. Then Peoples-Jones pulls the ball hard across his body and somehow brings himself to a stop to slip past the next defender. He thinks about turning it inside but resets to the outside to take advantage of St. Juste’s block (+27yds). If you’re reading this please stop and go watch the clip again. Fuller’s picture at the top of the post is from somewhere around the :11 mark in the clip I took. Peoples-Jones lowered his shoulder and just turned a human into a fractal, Borland has no idea he’s about to grab air as DPJ glides around him, and Fuller gets that shot. You know why Landers is so happy? Because he’s not on the punt unit.
What does it mean for the bowl game and beyond?
Thomas will be fine. He has enough of a body of work to write off a couple of ill-advised decisions as anomalies.
Peoples-Jones is improving weekly. His decision-making has been far from unassailable this season, but I wouldn’t bet against him if he continues to improve at this pace.
Robbins is going to be good. He is also going to be bad. I’m just referring to in-game exploits. I’m done projecting how he’ll do in the future. There’s no trend, just great punts and okay punts with a few awful ones sprinkled in. He has the potential to be really good; this offseason will be huge for him.
Foug hangtime, death, taxes. Having a fully weaponized kickoff specialist is quite nice. Handing excellent field position to that defense is even nicer.
Nordin’s had his second-half issues but that blocked PAT wasn’t on him. Nor was it on the snapper or the holder. AHHHH YOU BLOCK ALL THE GUYS.