Aussie Football Instincts

Submitted by Lordfoul on October 19th, 2015 at 9:09 AM

Watching the game with my Dad, he mentioned after the soul-wrenching final play that it appeared Blake O'Neill, in his panic, reverted to the instinct of an Aussie Rules Football player, in that he felt he needed to kick the ball or take a penalty.  I guess there is no "falling on the ball" in Aussie Football, so the act of simply covering up and holding onto the ball would not have occured to Blake in the heat of the moment.

Anyone on the board have a firm understanding of Aussie Football that could speak to the veracity of this idea? 

Edit:  It was just a question.  I love me some Blake O'Neill and agree that he is a great punter. I don't know much of anything about Aussie Football so I was hoping for someone who does to give an opinion.  Instead I get "Rabble, rabble, rabble... let it go."  Fair enough, the wound is still to fresh to talk about things rationally.



October 19th, 2015 at 9:12 AM ^

Or maybe it all happened in a matter of seconds and he made a decision based on limited information from a terrible vantage point in a pressure cooker that we'll never understand or comprehend. (ie - shit happens)


October 19th, 2015 at 9:15 AM ^

Exactly.  Everyone needs to find some reason to explain everything.  It just happened, not becuase he's an Aussie, not because he's a bad punter (he's actually a great one), not because we were in a rugby kick.  Because sometimes, football players don't catch the ball.

Welcome to football.  Next.


October 19th, 2015 at 9:26 AM ^

the kind of moment, in the heat of that moment, that is just not coachable.  There are so many variables, so many "what ifs" with a flukish circumstance such as that that there is just no way to get to all of them as a coach.  The way the game had unfolded, the emphasis had just been boiled down to "get the punt off" and we win that it was just tunnel vision for him.  In 20/20 hindsight, of course you wish that the ball being dropped would have been something discussed during the timeout(if it wasn't) "JUST FALL ON IT" being discussed before they even went onto the field, but that is just not how it works.

The delay of game probably would have been the best option once the players were on the field.  I smelled trouble the minute I saw the formations on both sides.  Granted, I did not smell that the "worst thing in the history of mankind" was going to unfold, but it just looked off from the get go.  It actually would not have surprised me if the punt was blocked even if he caught it clean.  State was coming like a freight train.


October 19th, 2015 at 9:47 AM ^

I disagree that it is not coachable. I'm not saying it's easily coached or that John Baxter (and others) never went over a similar scenario. What I'm saying is that people can be trained how to respond to emergencies, split-second events, etc.

If people can learn to "stop, drop, and roll" if they ever catch on fire, to wave their arms and yell if attacked by a bear, to curl up into a ball in an avalanche, etc., they can learn how to fall on a ball when it's dropped.

Again, I'm not hating on O'Neill. Mistakes are made, and not all people who are "trained" react that way 100% of the time. I'm simply saying that a proper response can be coached.


October 19th, 2015 at 9:53 AM ^

to say it was not "coachable" is an overstatement.  I am just saying that the way the circumstances set up, I just don't think that the instinct of a punter can be "coached out" of him in those circumstances.  Seeing nobody back probably only further advanced his instinct to just get the ball off.  He was thinking "foot to leather and we win this game." 


October 19th, 2015 at 10:05 AM ^

In 90% of all punts you don't want to just fall on the ball and give up posession deep in your own territory.  You want to try to get it off.  Even if it is not very effective, the odds are you will be at least a little better off and no worse off than falling on it.

This was different because there was only 10 seconds left in the game and the ball was out of field goal range and reasonable long-pass range.  Falling on the ball would have been the right thing to do, but it would have not been the coached "proper response" in most other cases. 


October 19th, 2015 at 10:12 AM ^

It wouldn't have been *that* deep in our territory. I believe it was a 38-yard return. I would trust the defense to defend 38 yards more than a punter and whatever blockers have time to turn around and chase.

Also, I disagree - you want to fall on the ball (or kick it out of the end zone) if the kick is going to be blocked, regardless of field position. With that kind of rush, it WOULD be the proper response.


October 19th, 2015 at 12:23 PM ^

what is this 90%? In ALL punts you want to get it off, unless it's a fake, in which case it wasn't a punt anyway.  But if there's even a small chance you can't get it off cleanly, you don't want to risk it. Yes, sometimes, maybe even the majority of times, you could get a couple extra yards but the downside of a blocked kick is so much greater that you can't take the risk. The expected value of trying it is heavily negative. That's why most punters take off running when they bobble it and clearly can't get it off. They are coached to do so. Especially in this scenario when the opposition field position is irrelevant, and you only need to avoid disaster.


October 19th, 2015 at 9:40 AM ^

Last point is right on. Jehu, whom is growing to be my favorite player, dropped a critical pass late in the game. I haven't really seen him catching any flack. WRs drop balls all the time square in their hands. O'Neill dropped a snap around his ankles in 30 degree weather. Shit happens. He will bounce back, the TEAM will bounce back. What's done is done. Go blue.


October 19th, 2015 at 11:51 AM ^

He seems to have a really hard time adjusting to the ball when it's in the air. I think that's his single biggest issue. I've noticed it several times this year alone, he seems to over correct for the flight path, then has to try to veer back when it's too late. Maybe he needs contacts? 


October 19th, 2015 at 9:28 AM ^

In hindsight, we say he should have fallen on it, but he knew it would have given MSU the ball well into Michigan territory.  

At the moment of dropping the ball he was not sure if he was on the 40, the 35, the 45, whatever.  He just knew he was well into Michigan territory and a drop and cover up of the ball would give MSU a shot at a pass into the end zone or a field goal.  The odds are low, but teams make those all the time.

Better to try to kick it away (in his mind) thinking that he had time.  He was surprised by the hit from behind.  It looked clear in front of him to get off a quick kick.

In the heat of battle, these things move quickly.  Even in the comfort of my couch I was saying "Get rid of it!!" not "Fall on it!!".  Admit it folks, you were too.  

It's easy to second guess after watching half a dozen slow motion replays.

That's why all the scenarios need to be discussed before he goes out there . . . "You're on the 40, it's too far for their kicker and would be a long-shot Hail Mary.  If you drop the ball just fall on it, don't try to kick it.  You have enough field position margin of error right now." 


October 19th, 2015 at 9:32 AM ^

is what I was saying above though.  You have to get deep into the level of "what ifs" before you even get to that point as a coach.  It is not a Steve Fisher situations where it is simply a matter of "WE HAVE NO TIMEOUTS," it is the reaction to a really flukish circumstance and you can only cover so much ground in a timeout.  My guess is that if Harbaugh had any inclination, any hint that such a thing could happen, had happened in practice, or that our punt team was any thing other completely rock solid he just would have ran a play and given State the hail mary to try to win it.


October 19th, 2015 at 9:54 AM ^

But he might hit a 40 yarder.  In the heat of battle when you drop the ball you are not sure where you are.  Is it 50 yards?  Is it 40 yards?  You're not sure.  

So you are going to try to kick it away if you think you can.  Unless you and the coaching staff explicitly make a pre-play decision that you are going to fall on a bobble no matter what because in this particular case, you have enough field position margin of error to turn the ball over at the spot of the drop.

Wisconsin Wolverine

October 19th, 2015 at 9:17 AM ^

In AFL, if you do not get rid of the ball in a timely manner upon being taken to the ground, a free kick is awarded to the other team (so it's a change of possession).  I doubt that had much of an impact on Blake's panicked actions, because lots of American punters have tried the same thing when attempting to salvage a broken punt, but I suppose it's possible.


October 19th, 2015 at 9:18 AM ^

Everyone else is saying it, but come on. In that moment, you don't have time to think "Hey, maybe I should just fall on it and worst case scenario, they get a Hail Mary at the endzone or a 50+ yard field goal with their shitty kicker". Its just "OH SHIT OH SHIT OH SHIT PANIC". He reacted like any normal human being who had made the same mistake in that situation would have reacted. 


October 19th, 2015 at 9:20 AM ^

to say one last thing as the kid is heading out onto the field so that's the last thing reverberating in his head.

"Hey Blake. If there's anything wrong with the snap, just eat the ball."  Ah well. Next time perhaps..



October 19th, 2015 at 9:58 AM ^

After the 3rd down play, I told the guys around me in the stadium we should let the clock go all the way down and take the 5 yard delay penalty and save the time out. When Harbaugh called timeout with 1 second on the play clock, I thought it wasn't a big deal. But in hindsight, if we go in that punt formation and see them line up with 11 guys on the LOS, we take a TO to get our blockers better situated. So many what ifs. So many little things led up to the freak play. Still cant believe we lost.


October 19th, 2015 at 10:07 AM ^

year in and year out, sometimes for you, sometimes against you.  Auburn takes back a field goal attempt at Bama.  Patriots intercept a goal-line touchdown.  Michigan scores three touchdowns in the final eight minutes(one off a butt fumble) against ND in 2011.  Trey Burke makes a half courter to tie a game in which Michigan trailed by 10 with under 2 minutes to play.  It just really, really hurts when it is you on the receiving end of one of these deals.  Sports man, they are like, weird.


October 19th, 2015 at 9:20 AM ^

I think there is some merit to this.  It was beaten into me at an early age to always fall on a fumble and cradle much so that coaches later had to tell me that it's sometimes okay to pick it up and try to score.


October 19th, 2015 at 9:22 AM ^

A. He screwed up (dropped ball)

B. In his panic after screwing up he tried to "fix things" and made a bad situation worse (tried to kick ball).

C. We lost and NOBODY on this board or in that locker room feels worse than he does.

Look, all of us have had moments like he had on Saturday it's just ours werent televised to half the free world and then picked apart afterwards.  And the older you get the more you'll have.  The expression "there but the grace of God go I' is 100% real guys.

Let it go.


October 19th, 2015 at 9:30 AM ^

On the coaching staff.  From the point where Michigan got their last first down and a punt with a few seconds left was a good possibility, Baxter should have been coaching up Baxter to fall on the ball if there was any trouble.  He also should have been getting his guys ready for max protection with Peppers deep behind the O'Neill in case of trouble.

Huge failure by the special teams staff.  


October 19th, 2015 at 9:45 AM ^

guess is that the coaching staff does not think it is dumb.  Get better everyday is their motto.  You better believe that Harbaugh and the staff is looking at that play 500 times to determine EXACTLY what they are going to do the next time anything close to that circumstance arises.


October 19th, 2015 at 9:56 AM ^

You could be right that going forward they change how they do things, but pretending like formation or scheme or anything other than the fact that Blake O'Neill failed to catch and kick the snap and then had the ball bounce perfectly into Sparty's waiting arms was the reason we lost is silly. 

We aren't talking about some freshman kicker who had been struggling all year. We're talking about a Top 5 in the country punter who has otherwise been excellent this year. It was simple. Catch. Kick. Win. Unfortunately, the 1 in 500 scenario happened and we lost. 


October 19th, 2015 at 10:21 AM ^

I agree with you in that catch, kick, win. That's why I dont understand all the people talking about roughing the snapper, or the bad formation, or any of it. It wasn't blocked. The formation was suboptimal, but would have worked fine.

But, this does not get the coaches off the hook. They didn't bring their A game on the most important play of the game. I am not going crazy about it, because it is so unlikely that you might be able to forgive the staff for not having it covered. But the other stuff, like the gunner being out wide and the front line releasing as if to make a tackle on a nonexistent returner show that the coaches weren't just not on top of the muff possibility, but they made no adjustments to situation.

Everyone shares blame. Players, I always think, deserve more. Their actions are what matters. O'Neill and the snapper just messed up badly, but they weren't helped as much as they should've been.


October 19th, 2015 at 2:25 PM ^

I don't know that I hold the muff against the coaches--once the ball was muffed we were pretty much screwed. But the mistakes you mention increased the chances of a punt block, which was the real concern. That the punt wasn't blocked doesn't let them off the hook--your job as a coach is to push the odds in your favor, and they didn't.


October 19th, 2015 at 9:47 AM ^

They are a great staff, but yeah, it was not their finest moment.  What was with the protection scheme?  Especially since MSU had nobody back.

Three Michigan players were essentially standing watching the entire MSU team go after their punter.

This play is going to be an inflection point in how teams protect end-of-game punts going forward.

We are all familair with the "Victory formation" at the end of a game where teams with the lead protect the QB on the sides and the back while he recieves the snap and takes a knee.  If there is a bobble, there are several guys there to cover it up.

But this was not always the case.  Teams used to hand the ball off to the RB in a regular formation to try to run out the clock.  

Until November 19, 1978.

That was when Giants QB Joe Pisarcik fumbled the hand off to the RB trying to run out the clock, and the Eagles Hereman Edwards recovered it and ran it in for the game winning TD.  I remember listening to that game on the radio when I lived in PA.  Everyone was totally shocked it happned.

Soon thereafter teams started going into the max-protect victory formation at the end of games when they had the lead.  The Pisarcik play was an inflection point in how teams tried to protect an end of game lead.

The O'Neil play is going to be a similar inflection point in how teams punt with an end of game lead.