Upon Further Reviewy Hokepointsy Thing: Kickoffs

Submitted by Seth on September 24th, 2013 at 4:07 PM


So I kind of misunderstood a direction by Brian when I said I wanted to address special teams—he wanted stats on dinosaur punting and I thought he meant UFR all the things he doesn't.

What sparked my interest was coffin corner kicking. NCAA moved the kickoff spot to the 35 and made touchbacks start on the 25 as in incentive to cut down on kickoff return (and ensuing concussions). Inadvertently (or maybe not) they took away the advantage gained by teams with big-legged touchback machines. To regain that advantage, schools that can recruit kickers are teaching them to put the ball higher and in a spot where returners have to field it but are likely to be swallowed short of the 25 after they do.

D-E-D zone.

Against CMU I noticed Wile seemed particularly good at placing balls right in that deep left corner, the same thing I've done on every football videogame ever once I mastered the timing of the kickoff bar. This seems very hard to do in real life: you need to put the ball high enough to let your coverage get there but not deep enough that they let it go through the end zone, and far enough from the sideline that it won't go out of bounds, but far enough inside of the hash that you can use the sideline as a force defender. Do it well consistently and that's perhaps 50 yards of field position a game.

It's my first time UFR'ing these so gonna have to set some ground rules:

Points: Number of points given out reflects where the play ended up, figuring 1 point roughly equals 5 yards of field position, baseline: 25 yard line.

Glossary: The "From" column is where the kick originated, given as yard line then horizontal position ("L"=left hash, etc.). "Rtn" (return) is how far the returner ran it, "Rlt" (result) is where the ball's placed. "Tchbk" (touchback) means it's on the 25. "Corner L" means they kicked it from the left hash and try to have it come down near the goal line and relatively near the sideline; "Deep L" means they just kicked it deep along the hash mark. "Center" means they kick it toward the middle and come down the same.

Things: Note that Michigan typically kicks off from the left hash despite their right-footed kicker.

Okay, got a UFR macro reverse-engineered in Xcel. Got some torrents. Got a…oh, bolded, chart-demanding subconscious, you there?


Okay let's do this.

[After the jump]

Central Michigan
Play Qtr Time Score Kicker From To Rtn Rlt Tackle
Corner L 1 15 min 0-0 Wile 35-L Out n/a Tchbk n/a
Ball is placed at the left hash, Wile is aiming for the back corner to that side and boots it out of the end zone (Boot). Coverage was at the 20 when it landed.
Corner L 1 13 min 7-0 Wile 35-L Out n/a Tchbk n/a
Again on the left hash, and Wile kicks it out of the back corner. (Boot)
Corner L 1 7 min 14-3 Wile 35-L -1 19 O19 Gedeon
Wile skies it so that the first defender (Chesson) is at the 30 when the ball arrives a yard into the end zone on the hash. (Good) Chesson(+1) blasts through two blockers who turn and chase him, leaving Norfleet and Lewis unblocked. Convoy is looking for their assignments until Thomas among them. Lead blocker takes him out but now there's a corral, except Delano Hill(-2) got shoved downfield so there's room to move up another 4 yards until Gedeon(+0.5) disengages and stops momentum at the 19.
Corner L 2 15 min 21-3 Wile 35-L 1 15 O16 Gedeon
Wile puts it on the goal line midway between the left hash and the sideline, but the kick was a little low (Good) so the returner can get back to the 5 before coverage enters the frame. Wall arrives en masse, with Thomas(+0.5) and Houma(+0.5) blowing by the edge blockers to force the return inside. There, Stribling and Gedeon close in and end the play at the 15. A kicker who can do this regularly is quite a weapon.
Corner L 2 2 min 28-6 Wile 35-L -1 24 O23 Gedeon
Vintage videogame kick. This time it arrives a yard into the end zone and 3 yards from the sideline (DO). Blocking is better this time until Gedeon(+1) arrives with a swarm of Reavers behind him, and that pile plus Houma meets the ball carrier at the 22.
Corner L 2 <1 min 35-6 Wile 35-L -2 24 O22 Stribling
Wile with perfect placement again: 2 yards into the end zone and 5 from the sideline (DO). Mel Gibson's army meets the English at the 15 and Stribling(+1) peels through to grab the returner at the 16. They wrestle there a moment while Lewis(-1) is escorted out of the hole and 10 yards downfield by the fullback. Houma and Gedeon come back to help and accidentally knock Stribling off as D.Hill and Hayes and Norfleet and Thomas arrive as well. Pile lurches forward another 6 yards before falling over.
Corner L 3 12 min 42-6 Wile 35-L 2 26
O10 Gedeon
Wile lays it on the 2 midway between the hash and sideline, with enough hangtime that the coverage is already on screen at the catch. You want it a little further out so: (Good). Drake Johnson(+2) got downfield and set up past the blockers to corral this at the 15, but dude he whiffed blocks him (in the back or shoulder? Hard to tell here) when knees are bent: season-ending injury. Stribling was turned around thinking this was going inside so now there's room at the sideline again. Wile sets up to slow the returner and Gedeon catches up from behind. Flag was on guy who threw D.Hill to the ground then tried to sit on him. Gruesome replay.
Corner L 3 5 min 49-6 Wile 35-L Out n/a Tchbk n/a
Ball lands 4 yards into end zone and 4 from sideline; returner lets it drop and roll out the back. (Boot)
Deep L 3 <1 min 56-6 Wile 35-L -7 n/a Tchbk n/a
Wile lets it go, receiver gets it 7 yards into the end zone and is about to come out anyway but his buddy's like "dude; no!"--kneel. (Boot)
Deep L 4 <1 min 59-9 Wile 35-L -5 n/a Tchbk  
Kick goes 5 yards deep, kneel. (Boot)
Game Notes: Wile is a weapon.
Notre Dame
Play Qtr Time Score Kicker From To Rtn Rlt Tackle
Deep L 1 15 min 0-0 Wile 35-L Out n/a Tchbk n/a
Give us 10 hours of tailgating and we are loud people. (Boot)
Deep L 1 9 min 3-0 Wile 35-L Out n/a Tchbk n/a
Buried. (Boot)
Deep L 1 6 min 10-0 Wile 35-L -7 n/a Tchbk n/a
Michigan still not giving Atkinson a shot to return. (Boot)
Deep L 2 14 min 17-10 Wile 35-L Out n/a Tchbk n/a
Goes out the left corner. (Boot)
Corner L 2 2 min 20-13 Wile 35-L 2 25
O42 Stribling
Bit of a line drive that comes down 3 yards from the hash with coverage not yet to the 36: (IN). Norfleet(+1) sets up his blocker then jukes inside of him--that dude's done--and Chesson(+1) is down there to seal the field side so Atkinson runs horizontal into unblocked guy. That's Gedeon(-1) who misses the tackle but slows him enough for Norfleet, Stribling, and RJS to run him down at the 27. Thomas(-3) arrives late and hits the returner when he's already 3 yards OOB. Dozy freshman.
Corner L 2 1 min 27-13 Wile 35-L -4 n/a Tchbk n/a
Kick is just a little too deep to convince Atkinson to come out and play (Boot). Coverage was past the 30.
Corner L 3 2 min 34-20 Wile 35-L -2 52 50 Taylor
Wile's kick is a bit too inside, landing a couple yards in the end zone at the bottom of the 'C'. Coverage is already past the 30 when it arrives so: (Good). Lewis(-4) gave up his lane and cut off Thomas, then can't get back in time. Norfleet(-1) has the outside and gets too far downfield. Gaping hole for Atkinson. Raymon Taylor (+1) is virtually alone in space and wisely cedes 10 yards to force this to the sideline and prevent a TD.
Corner L 4 4 min 41-30 Wile 35-L OOB n/a O35 n/a
OOB at the 1 yard line. Save it for your punts, man! (IN)
Game Notes: Two freshman things set up ND drives near midfield. I preferred the first half "don't kick it to Rocket" plan.
Play Qtr Time Score Kicker From To Rtn Rlt Tackle
Corner L 1 15 min 0-0 Wile 35-L 4 21 O25 Bolden
Into the wind I guess but Wile has to get this deeper--lands too centered at the 4 with coverage still at the 35 (IN). Akron's using the same 1-2-1-1 attack Michigan does. Stribling(+1) sets up in the hole and works around his guy to squeeze it shut until Bolden(+1) can work his way down the line and stop it at the 25.
Corner L 1 10 min 7-0 Wile 35-L Out n/a Tchbk n/a
Camera doesn't pan; memory says this bounced around the end zone and out the back (Boot).
Deep L 3 8 min 14-10 Wile 35-L 1 21 O22 RJS
Wile kicks a perfect spiral, which has the unfortunate effect of arriving too quickly--coverage isn't to the 35 when returner collects it. Lovely thing that earns him an (IN) because results-based. Stribling(+1) does a good job to be to the sideline long enough to dissuade that route, then quickly hops inside to force the returner into RJS(+1) who beat a block.
Deep L 3 3 min 21-10 Wile 35-L -5 n/a Tchbk n/a
Still kicking into the wind so he boots as hard as he can and it lands 5 yards deep (Boot). Over-the-shoulder catch means no return.
Corner L 4 3 min 28-24 Wile 35-L 6 19 O25 Houma
Wile hangs it long enough but a little short (Good). Houma has the field side closed off--a good thing since Chesson and Thomas are both getting uncalled blocks in the back that shove them past the play (Refs-2). Then Houma(+3) leaps past three blockers to bury this all on his own. Great play!
Game Notes: Three of four kicks into heavy wind--good to come away with a wash.
Play Qtr Time Score Kicker From To Rtn Rlt Tackle
Deep L 1 15 min 0-0 Wile 35-L Out n/a Tchbk n/a
Sails out of the end zone. Ball was placed a yard inside the hash this time. (Boot)
Corner L 1 2 min 7-0 Wile 35-L -4 n/a Tchbk n/a
Ball's too inside but 4 yards deep. Could return but decides not to. (Boot)
Corner L 3 6 min 14-21 Wile 35-L OOB n/a O40 n/a
Ball is back to starting at the hash mark. Wile boots it out of bounds. (IN)
Corner L 4 10 min 21-21 Wile 35-L -6 n/a Tchbk n/a
Back to a yard inside the hash now. Low kick travels into the end zone. (Boot)
Boot 4 5 min 24-21 Wile 35-L -8 n/a Tchbk n/a
A yard inside the hash, booted deep for no return. (Boot)

I can't believe you got me out of bed just to talk about kickoffs.


Do you have anything to show from this?

Well I could make a—


Was gonna say a Wilechart.






Nailed it. BryanWrightwasusefulatsomethingchart:

Opponent DO Good Boot IN Pin Srt
CMU 2 3 3 (2) - 8/8
ND - 1 1 (4) 1 (1) 2/3
Akron - 1 1 (1) 2 2/4
UConn - - 2 (2) 1 2/3
2013 so far: 2 5 7 (9) 5 14/19

"DO" is dead on—that kick has instantly reduced the opponent's likely starting position by 10 or more yards. "Good" gives the coverage a good shot to stop it short of the 25. "Boot" means he kicked a should-be touchback—I put those he seemed to be purposefully whacking in parentheses. "IN" is inaccurate—kicking out of bounds or shorting it so that the returner is set up to get beyond the 25. "Pin Srt" (Pin success rate) tracks just the coffin-corner attempts and how many ended up either longed or accurate enough to give the coverage a chance to pin them.

As you can see I made a distinction between aiming for the videogame kick and having it go long versus when Wile ran up and thwacked it as hard as he could, which attempts are charted in parentheses. Michigan practiced it a lot in the CMU game, brought it out in the 2nd half of the ND game, and continued using it against Akron and UConn except when kicking into a strong headwind.

So far the gambit has just over a 25% fail rate. Really to judge whether it's worth continuing we need to look at how the coverage has done at converting Wile's kickoffs into field position. Coveragechart:

Player + - Total Note
D.Thomas 0.5 3 -2.5 Consistently got down there, neg was on his PF.
Houma 3.5 - +3.5 Most of this on one play.
Stribling 3 +3 What a find.
J.Lewis - 5 -5 Edge man can't be trying to MAKE PLAYS unless he knows he's covered.
Gedeon 2.5 - +2.5 Always around the ball, doesn't stay blocked.
Chesson 2 - +2 Usually first man downfield, does good things when he gets there.
D.Johnson 2 - +2 #2 back or not he was valuable here.
Norfleet 1 1 0 Risk/reward
D.Hill - 2 -2 Better at blocking, strangely.
R.Taylor 1 - +1 Safety of special teams save a TD once.
Bolden 1 - +1 Replaced Johnson.
RJS 1 - +1 Maybe better--always in the right spot to force play elsewhere.

Live I thought Gedeon and Stribling were always around the ball; Jourdan Lewis and Dymonte Thomas were getting down there quickly but often did bad things once they arrived. Competition applies: all the big negatives were things that let Notre Dame escape, and a lot of that has to do with Atkinson versus CMU-Akron-UConn returner du jour.


Having a kicker who can do this regularly:

…is a nice weapon. Downside is balls potentially going out of bounds and more returns increases the likelihood one gets broken on you. Upside is you can kill a drive by starting it at the 15—where coaches tend to get more conservative—and when you miss more often than not the result is the same thing you might have gotten if you just booted it. Do not attempt in high winds.



Space Coyote

September 24th, 2013 at 4:18 PM ^

A kickoff is marked in 9 areas, 1-2-3 being left-middle-right near the football, 4-5-6 being left-middle-right for a midrange, and 7-8-9 for left-middle-right near the goal line.

This is what is considered a 7 because it's placed in the back left corner but not through the endzone.

While I know of the advantage in video games, I think it's more risk than the reward you get for most college kickers. It's importance is when you're against the wind and you actually need to defend a kick against another team. But if they can, in most games, I'd like to see them just kick the ball out the back of the end zone.


September 24th, 2013 at 4:52 PM ^

I was really excited when I reverse-engineered a macro to do UFRs. Didn't get it perfect but was close. Here's the test that is now relegated to the secret back pages of MGoBlog:

Title Ep Director Writer Air Date
Ariel 9 Allan Kroeker Jose Molina Nov 15, 2002
Hard up for cash, Serenity takes on a job from Simon(RPS+5) to help him get a thorough diagnostic of River in return for the opportunity to loot the vast medical stores of an Alliance hospital on central world Ariel. Kaylee(+1) and Wash(+1) do an excellent job converting a junk helicopter into a passable working med-evac unit. Simon(-1) almost blows their cover by saving a flatlining patient's life(+1). The caper is almost blown entirely when Jayne(-3), sells out the Tams and almost delivers them to the blue-gloved Alliance spooks. In press conf Jayne admits fault, claiming "money was too good; I got stupid."
Game Notes: I think my system is working.

Even got the chart to build.


September 24th, 2013 at 7:21 PM ^

I want to share this with my Firefly-loving friends and family, but just realized that they all either a) already saw this or b) have no idea what UFR is.

Yay for being the smallest intersection on the Venn diagram.