2012 Football Midpoint Review: Kickoff Coverage

The Cardinals have made it to the midpoint of the 2012 season undefeated and relatively injury-free. Nothing to complain about, right? Not for anyone who goes to the bathroom after UofL scores and hasn't seen what has happened right after those moments of joy. Our kickoff coverage (both distance of kicks and the subsequent coverage) has been noticeably bad. But just how bad? Let's take a look, after The Jump (I've always wanted to type that! Ah, but it just reminds me of Pitino signing Sebastian Telfair when he could have had Rondo...dammit Rick)

First the kickers' stats. We've used a combination of John Wallace and Joshua Appleby so far (about 70% Wallace), but there's no use splitting up their stats because they've been equally disappointing. As a matter of fact, I'm going to mash up their names just to further emphasize their equality. Below are the combined stats for Johnua Applelace and Josh Wallby (see link for a picture of their future child, Joshnua Wapplaceby, if that was biologically possible...pretty handsome fella for being a biological freak). Also, these are national rankings, out of 124 teams.
  • Kickoff Distance: 60.46 yds (#89)
  • Touchback %: 7.69% (#122)

Aside from hangtime, which I couldn't find stats for, those are the key stats for evaluating kickoffs...and we're bad. Really bad. Joseph N'Sima Jumpshot Bad. Okay, well at least if we're kicking it short, we should be giving our coverage team a chance to limit the return, kind of like a squib kick is designed...

  • KO Return Yds Allowed (avg): 24.37 yds (#105)
  • Opponents Started Field Position: 28.91 yard line (#104)

So if you've thought our kickoffs have been horrible, here are the stats to back them up. The question is, why? I'm not a football expert, so maybe there are some things regarding gap responsibility and tackling technique that I'm missing, but the main two reasons I see are short, low-hangtime kickoffs (again, I don't have the stats on hangtime to back that up, just a feel) and anciently slow coverage speed when the ball is kicked.

Among the collection of bizarre rule changes to attempt to reduce head injuries is limiting the "run up" window for kickoff coverage teams from 10 to 5 yards (I've yet to figure out why the NCAA thinks it's better for head injuries to happen at the 25 yard line instead of the 20...). For the first two or three games, we were trying some type of Mighty Ducks Flying V, with the 10 cover men running perpendicular to the length of the field to somehow gain greater down-field speed at the kick. Unless Gordon Bombay is going to be your special teams coach, that is never going to work. And that proved to be a failed theory, evidenced by these horrendous stats and the fact that we completely abandoned that approach, at least before the Pittsburgh game (I couldn't see through the sheets of rain the previous two games to see what we were doing). Now we are starting from two pods of 5 just to either side of the kicker, running downfield. But there is no sense of urgency until the moment the ball is kicked. They should be sprinting from the moment they start running; they just need to time the sprint so they're not offside.

I don't see how you fix the kickoff distance mid-season, but if we don't correct the coverage flaws (whatever they are), my money is on it costing us a loss. If we held each kickoff to the 28-29 yard line every time, it might not be that big of a deal. But for every 20-something-yard-line start for our opponents, they're getting a start on the 40. That is killing our D. Not only does it give the opponent the opportunity to make one or two first downs and be in field goal range, it can demoralize our defense, which is still trying to find a rhythm. It's hard to do that when they have no margin for error every time they run onto the field. If we could start giving our D a long field to work with right after our offense scores, then we could really see us put some menacing stretches together.

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