Upon Further Review 2017: Special Teams vs Purdue Comment Count

Adam Schnepp September 29th, 2017 at 12:35 PM


in need of a prospecting name [Fuller]

Formation/Substitution notes: Only change of note is subbing Kekoa Crawford out for Ambry Thomas on kick return. Crawford was the deep man for the first two returns of the game, both of which went out of the end zone. Michigan then inserted Thomas to start the third quarter. Timing is a bit odd considering Crawford didn’t have a shot to return the first two kicks before ceding his spot, but there’s a chance he can earn it back considering how the third-quarter return went. More on that later.

It’s not a substitution, but Brad Robbins’ redshirt is gone and Will Hart’s on the bench. Robbins did an excellent job getting distance and hangtime on his punts. It’s hard to tell whether they just drifted or were intentional, but it seems more likely that Robbins executed two directional kicks—Hart’s bête noire—in the second half. All told, it was an excellent debut for the touted freshman.

Other than that, Michigan would often hold three guys in a zone short of the sticks on punts. This was a smart decision and likely something Michigan picked up on film, as Purdue was frequently motioning out one of the members of the shield wide. The only all-out rushes were when Purdue was punting from inside their 10-yard line. They also went safe on Purdue’s lone field goal.

vlc record 2017 09 28 09h37m05s Michigan vs Purdue 1st Half mp4   YouTube

Makes perfect sense considering Purdue’s Brohminess and where the ball is located.

[After THE JUMP: Robbins’ new gig; roughing vs running into the kicker; and Foug, god of hangtime, ruler of return teams]

Play Qtr Time Score Kicker From To Rtn Rlt Tackle
Corner L 1 15:00 0-0 Foug 35-L EZ TB O25 n/a
Hits the back left corner, about a yard away from going out of the end zone.
Corner L 2 11:34 7-0 Foug 35-L EZ TB O25 n/a
Hits about halfway into the middle of the end zone.
Mid-left 3 2:42 14-7 Foug 35-L EZ TB O25 n/a
Hits about halfway into the middle of the end zone again.
Mid-left 4 10:36 21-10 Foug 35-L EZ 20 O20 Glasgow
Decision to carry it out of the end zone reeks of desperation. Crawford almost chases it down from the backside, shoved out along the sideline by Glasgow.
Left 4 6:46 28-10 Foug 35-L EZ TB O25 Glasgow
Hits about halfway into the middle of the end zone again...again.
Kickoff Return
Play Qtr Time Score From To Player Rtn Rlt
Left 2 9:45 7-7 35-L EZ n/a TB M25
Booted out of the back of the end zone.
Left 2 6:04 10-7 35-L EZ n/a TB M25
Booted out of the back of the end zone again.
Middle 3 15:00 10-7 35-L M15 Crawford 15 M25

Thomas (-10 yd) makes a hesitant and ill-advised decision to take it out of the end zone. He's probably six yards deep before making the decision, and six members of the coverage team are inside the 20 when the ball croses the goal line.

Field Goal Defense

Qtr Time Ln Dn Ds FGDis Hash
2 6:08 M11 4 7 29 Right
DO. Otherwise nothing of consequence (including no rushers off the edge or push up the middle). Players on the edge set up and stayed in place, so they're likely (and rightly) protecting against a fake here.

Punt Return
Play Qtr Time In-Air Yd From To Player Rtn Rlt
Middle 1 13:23 44 50 O6 DPJ 2 M8
Over DPJ's head, but it takes an advantegous two-yard bounce for Michigan.
Left hash 1 10:14 47 O17 M36 DPJ -3 M34
DPJ decides to field this despite pressure. He makes a man partially miss before being taken down by two others.
Right hash 1 6:45 43 O17 M40 DPJ M23
Hits well in front of DPJ and skims the grass. He looks like he wants to field it off a hop and holds off. It's too low to the ground to pick up and go without fear of fumbling. Loses yardage, but DPJ makes the best decision possible.
Middle right 1 3:16 40 O44 M16 DPJ FC M16
Fair catch under duress. No chance he could get anything other than hit (hard) if he chose to return.
Left 2 3:50 45 O7 M48 DPJ FC M48
Fair catch decision made quickly.
Left sideline 2 00:25 34 O38 M28 DPJ 0 M28
DPJ calls the clearout, picks it up on a bounce, and gets shoved OOB at the spot. Jabrill lite though.
Right hash 3 10:34 48 O10 M38 DPJ FC M38
DPJ calls for the fair catch. It's a good decision at the time of the signal made better because they end up crowding him, too.
Right hash 3 8:14 57 O29 M14 DPJ FC M14
DPJ calls for the fair catch. It's a good decision even though there might be a few yards to gain running it right. That yardage isn't certain enough to neg him, so this one's logged as neutral.
Right hash 3 1:22 O5 DPJ FC
Running into the kicker goes against Thomas. The punter's only hit because of Crawford and Kelly-Powell running into each other and that change in direction causes Thomas to hit the kicking leg, so the five-yard penalty seems correctly applied here.
Left hash 3 1:22 54 O13 M35 DPJ FC M35
Middle left 4 9:39 54 O16 M24 DPJ FC M24
FC. Punt backs up DPJ, who could have taken it and gotten blasted or called for the FC. He avoids the temptation to take it (there was a fairly large gap between the nearest man in coverage and himself). Excellent decision-making on display again; this is a different calculation if the guy's coming at an angle, but he's tearing down the middle of the field on a line.
Left hash 4 5:00 67 M17 DPJ FC M17

FC. DPJ again gets backed up, this time significantly. He's moving far enough back and having to track with his head up long enough that I don't think he can see where Purdue's gunners are. No negative yardage applied because he's thinking secure the ball first at the expense of the return; if a punt that long bounces, there's a good chance Michigan loses a big chunk.


Play Qtr Time Kicker In-Air Yd From To Rtn Rlt Tackle
Right Hash 1 11:34 Robbins 57 M7 O43 FC O43 n/a
Fair catch called with Schoenle about two yards away.
Right Hash 1 8:49 Robbins 55 M30 O15 FC O43 n/a
Fair catch called again. This one had tons of hangtime; the FC was signaled over two seconds before the returner caught the ball.
Left Hash 1 4:46 Robbins 56 M6 O38 FC O43 n/a
Interference on Shoenle (-15 yards) that was completely unnecessary. Anthrop called for the fair catch with enough time for Schoenle to pull up.
Middle 2 4:52 Robbins 56 M20 O28 7 O34 Wangler
Schoenle's in with enough speed to flush the returner to his left. Poggi dives and misses, but this causes the returner to plant his foot and try to cut up. The slowdown there provides Wangler enough time to form up and rip him to the ground.
Left (numbers) 2 1:58 Robbins 47 M32 O21 FC O21 n/a
Punt pulls the returner to his right. Schoenle is there early enough to mirror his movement laterally for two yards while keeping a two-yard cushion in case he chose to return it. Calls for the FC around the numbers.
Left (numbers) 3 11:48 Robbins 50 M30 O20 FC O20 n/a
Anthrop is again pulled to his right to field. Thomas tears past his Purdue counterpart and leaves no decision but to call for the FC.
Left hash 4 2:44 Robbins 52 M13 O35 1 O36 n/a
The return was just the returner falling forward.

You are an absolute stan.

Off to a roaring start. Go on, explain.

You lobby for Will Hart’s job and look what happens. You are nothing more than a Will Hart stan.

I would not say what I was doing is anything resembling “lobbying.” Hart was doing a fine job with the exception of the directional punts, and that turned out to be a big exception. Robbins must have shown something in practice the week prior to Purdue. I think I know what he was showing, as he was excellent last week.

You are an absolute Brad Robbins stan.

Being positive isn’t the same as being a fanboy, but that seems to nuanced for you. Anyways, the best way to frame the Hart vs. Robbins argument is, of course, with numbers. Hart has averaged 49.3 in-air yards on his 10 punts this season. His three shortest punts are 31, 32, and 36 yards; the 31-yarder came from Michigan’s 24-yard line and the 36-yarder came from Michigan’s 24-yard line. I wrote off the 36-yard punt because Harbaugh said they were called a punt to the left and Hart missed, and I thought one of the short ones the week before was a similarly botched directional kick. It seemed like a guy learning on the fly; he also had a nice corner kick against Cincinnati, so the growing pains were warranted.

Enter Brad Robbins. There’s a fair amount of evidence of his ability thanks to an offense that took three quarters to get on track. He punted seven times against Purdue for an in-air average of 53.3 yards with his shortest punt traveling 47 yards. The moments he appeared to grab the job came in the late second and early third quarter, when he booted punts long and to the numbers.  He almost did it in the first quarter as well, but that one was about halfway between the left hash and the numbers and was the punt where Schoenle interfered with the returner.

It’s going to take a really good improvement week to unseat a guy who can do that.

While we’re on the topic of things you got wrong, how about that roughing the kicker penalty on Michigan’s punt return team.

It wasn’t roughing, it was running into the kicker.

Not what you wrote down in the box.

It’s hard to hear up there, alright?

Anyone who has suffered through this banter for this long deserves to know what happened there. Did Michigan get something to break their way?

Nope, this one was simply called correctly by the officials. First, watch the play and keep a careful eye on the punter’s kicking leg.

Kelly-Powell and Thomas run into each other, and it looks to me like Thomas first hits the kicking leg before sliding under and landing on the plant foot. Brian sent me an article this week about roughing vs running into the kicker, an article written because of recent confusion surrounding the issue in the NFL. The NFL rulebook is far more specific about what constitute which penalty, but this seems to fit even the more stringent NFL definition of running into the kicker. The NCAA rulebook just says that running into the kicker occurs when the kicker is displaced from their kicking spot but not roughed. An automatic first down is a massive thing to have determined by a rule as vague as that, so here’s hoping that running into the kicker is clarified in the offseason. At least this crew was able to parse it.

That’s great and all, but there’s a more important kicking foot to talk about.

I actually agree. James Foug was mentioned in Bruce Feldman’s SI column as being a major source of stress for Purdue’s special teams coach because he just gets so dang much hangtime. So much hangtime, in fact, that I’m adding a new column to the—


…yes, the chart. Ace and others suggested tracking what yard line Michigan’s coverage team is at when the returner receives the kick.

This is Purdue’s longest return of the day. It is also their only return of the day. The returner is halfway out of the end zone when he decides to field it; anything that reeks this badly of desperation is lucky to get more than 10 yards. The notable thing about this return isn’t that it got 20 up the sideline, as that’s just something that’s going to happen when pursuit swings to the sideline as rapidly as it did here. The thing to note is that Thomas is at the 10-yard line when the returner exits the end zone with Glasgow at the 15. Purdue’s special teams coach said return teams are typically inside the 35 when a returner fields the ball and Michigan’s impressed him because they’re usually inside the 25. Here they’re at the 10 and 15. Foug’s hangtime is so good that I’ve yet to track a fielded kick that the opponent took past the 20-yard line.

What does it mean for Michigan State and beyond?

James Foug is kickoff Thanos. Beware his wrath.

Brad Robbins likely to start unless he doesn’t. I can see why Robbins no longer has a redshirt and it has everything to do with his ability to force a returner to the sideline. His consistent distance is nice, too. I suppose Hart could theoretically re-enter the competition and emerge on top, but it seems like getting Robbins game reps is more valuable considering his ceiling.

Ambry Thomas sub didn’t go so well. Still confused by the timing, but won’t be confused if Crawford gets another chance against State. He’s bled yardage, too, so this is easily a job that could go to someone else. Have to figure DPJ gets a shot at some point, but returning punts and kicks are so different that it’s foolish to predict when.

DPJ’s decision-making continues to evolve. He showed great restraint on three or four of his fair catches, and the one that he fielded off a bounce made sense. There was a turf-burner that would have been tempting to field that just as likely could have taken a hop and turned into a fumble as it could have gone for big yards. DPJ let it go by, and with it any concerns about his ability to process on the fly. He has been excellent since that one bad outing.

WILD THING. Sometimes the offense doesn’t need you to do things.



September 29th, 2017 at 12:50 PM ^

The only reason DPJ fielded that punt off the bounce was because he was shoved in the back toward the ball and decided that it was best to grab it and go OOB immediately.  If the Purdue guy doesn't shove him I think he just lets it go OOB on its own.

#47 for Purdue is a little fucker.


September 29th, 2017 at 12:51 PM ^

This has probably been covered elsewhere, so apologies for bringing it up again, but -

How is the last name of James Foug pronounced? Is it Fug? Or Fowg? or Fog? Or some other vowel combination sound?

I just figure that if we're going to worship his 4.5 second hang time, we should at least know how to pronounce his name. I don't want to run the risk of offending him or any of the other gods on Olympus.


September 29th, 2017 at 7:49 PM ^

James "Arc Angel" Foug

James "The Midas Touchback" Foug


If pronouncing it as rhyming with Rogue:

James "One, One-Thousand, Two, Two-Thousand, Three, Three-Thousand..." Foug

Foug One: A Hang Time Story


If pronouncing it as rhyming with Doug:


Foug Dunnie, Kicker Tofu


September 29th, 2017 at 1:11 PM ^

On why DPJ doesn't return kick offs?

Also, please don't try to block punts in important games. Odds of roughing >>>> blocking the kick. Had they called roughing there, maybe that momentum totally swings things for Purdue. Definitely not worth the risk

The Maizer

September 29th, 2017 at 1:35 PM ^

It depends on the game situation though, right? If it's near the end of an important game, we're down by a score, and our offense has been stymied: go for the block. Plus, we got hands on something like 7 punts last season. I don't think we had a number of roughing the kicker penalties >>>> 7.


September 29th, 2017 at 1:48 PM ^

Agreed 100% on game situation caveat. Last year against Colorado, for example: we were a little shell-shocked, but the D regained composure and got them off the field, and we seized momentum with a huge punt block.

But in last week's game, it just made no sense.

I also think last year's success was a bit flukey, which is supported by a total absence of blocks this year. I don't have any data, but I'd be shocked if there are more blocks than 1st downs caused by kicker interference penalties.

Hugh White

September 29th, 2017 at 1:31 PM ^

You mentioned the wisdom of watching for Brohminess in the Field-Goal Defense.  I believe M was doing the same thing when Purdue punted, which probably adversely effected our ability to set up any sort of return.


September 29th, 2017 at 1:43 PM ^

Saw a UFR and got so excited...until I saw it was of the special teams. With the off week you would think we could at the very least get our defensive UFR to diddle ourselves to until next weeks State build up


September 29th, 2017 at 1:55 PM ^

At some point it would be great to see a KO returner fair catch at the 7-10 yard line. Absolutely pin an opponent deep for no other reason than great hang time. Let Brown's D just tee off.


September 29th, 2017 at 2:12 PM ^

Returning punts is significantly more difficult than returning kick-offs. DPJ has demonstrated great judgement when returning punts. This consternation over fielding a bouncing punt is wildly distorted...I thought he should have fielded that one that went bouncing by ten additional yards-perhaps the bounce was not optimal relative to where he was at the time. I would love to see DPJ get  a shot at returning kick-offs.


September 29th, 2017 at 2:11 PM ^

The ultimate measure of the success of a punting play is the net gain in field position, right? Yet this is NEVER mentioned on TV coverage -- i.e. "Michigan flipped field position by 46 yards on that punt" -- and that always has always annoyed me.

I'm aware that I could come up with this number myself by calculating the difference between the "FROM" and "RLT" values (or the IN-AIR YD and RTN values), but it would be nice to have the net yardage displayed for an at-a-glance measure of how well the punt went!

After all, we don't generally talk about passing or rushing plays in terms of the starting and ending yard lines -- we talk about yards gained (or lost).  Can we apply the same concept here?


September 29th, 2017 at 2:13 PM ^

  • I think DPJ could have run at least one of those, but I will always prefer a returner who safely catches the ball over one that thinks he can make something out of nothing.
  • Crawford had to be helped off the field later in the game, with what we suspect were cramps.  It is possible he was cramping earlier in the game that prompted Thomas to step in.  (Still amazed at the volume of shared jersey numbers on this team....)
  • I like the idea of going all-out for a block early in the game or maybe when you have a 2-score lead.  Clearly last year we went all out for a lot of punts and have barely pressured this year.  Maybe it is a personnel issue on Michigan's part with their youth.  Maybe teams have adjusted.  Or maybe it is being saved for later in the season. 
  • Huge missed opportunity to highlight the play where Hurst annihilated the shield player on a punt attempt for Purdue.


September 29th, 2017 at 2:22 PM ^

would like to see a track guy built like Samuels get a shot at KOs. In high school he had 7 return attempts and took 3 to the house and averaged about 50 yards per return.


September 29th, 2017 at 2:59 PM ^

Why would UM go hard after a block deep in Purdue's territory, when they are likely to get good field position and a decent return chance?  I would think that would be a prime spot to set up your max return protection. 

Whereas, when the other team is punting from mid-field and threatening to pin UM deep in their own territory - when touchbacks, out-of-bounds, and fair catches are much more likely - I would expect the block to be attempted.

Is this purely out of fear of a roughing penalty to extend a drive?


September 29th, 2017 at 3:40 PM ^

Does anyone know why Crawford is still back there returning KOs?  I mean, even if you ignore DPJ, we have a roster full of fast athletes, and KR is much easier than PR as you're not fielding in traffic.  There has to be SOMEBODY better than Crawford, who isn't one of the top 10 athletes on the team and hasn't once looked dangerous.