How to set a record for fewest punt return yards allowed

I love stuff like this.

… On the western edge of Little Rock, Ark., there is a high school football team coached by a wizard named Kevin Kelly. Pulaski Academy’s roster doesn’t include a punter because, quite simply, they’d rather “go for it” every time the team is faced with a fourth down.

And when this guy says “go for it”, he means exactly that.

… Now, flash to the Arkansas 5A state championship last year. Coach Kelley’s Pulaski Bruins are up 35-32 with the ball deep in their own territory. On the final drive of that title game, the Bruins converted on four straight fourth-down situations instead of protecting their teetering lead with a punt and, indeed, won the state title.

Oh yeah, that’s not all.

When it comes to the kicking game, which wise coaches have proven is just as integral to success as a good offense and defense, he’s just as radical. He tries an on-sides kick every time. As Wertheim writes in SI, “According to Kelley’s figures, after a kickoff the receiving team, on average, takes over at its own 33-yard line.”

After a failed onside kick the team assumes possession at its 48. Through the years Pulaski has recovered about a quarter of its onside kicks. “So you’re giving up 15 yards for a one-in-four chance to get the ball back,” says Kelley. “I’ll take that every time!”

Would this work in college?  Who knows if the numbers work out quite the same?  But at least you’d have one more scholarship freed up that would have gone to a punter.  And at Georgia, we’d quit complaining about directional kicks.

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UPDATE: Gregg Easterbrook wrote about Pulaski two years ago here(h/t Dr. Y in the comments)

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15 Comments

Filed under Strategery And Mechanics

15 responses to “How to set a record for fewest punt return yards allowed

  1. Section Z alum

    please, please, please don’t give fabris any ideas….

  2. Xon

    I do sometimes wish that we would just “go radical” and be the first to really put the smartfootball theories to the test in the kicking game.

    The college percentages are going to be different than the high school percentages, and both are surely different than the pro percentages that the smartfootball crowd use, but the basic reasoning seems sound. You wouldn’t want to always onside kick in college or the pros, though. Surely a 25% recovery rate is grossly optimistic even at the college level. Don’t we think?

  3. D.N. Nation

    You have four opportunities to go 10 yards. Punting means you’re only using 3 of those opportunities.

    When phrased like that…

  4. Dr. Y

    For more discussion of this, including some “hard” data: see today’s TMQ (links in the third paragraph)

    http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=easterbrook/090922&sportCat=nfl

  5. Hackerdog

    Fabris just needs to follow the old “Opposite George” strategy from Seinfeld. Whatever he thinks is a good idea, just do the opposite.

    The perfect example was during the Arkansas game. With 2:10 left on the clock, up by 11 points, the only thing we have to worry about is a big kickoff return. So it’s the perfect time to let Fabris call his favorite play, the kick out of bounds. Instead, we pooch it and Arkansas returns it to the 43. We put the return in play, and ended up losing 3 yards over the zero risk option.

    Nice job George.

  6. cookinandsmilin

    The part that can get overlooked in all of this discussion is instead of practicing the on side kick just a hand full of time each week, you would devote hours to “perfecting” it… there could be some ‘mis direction’ going on with the kicker, etc… also, the best trick would be the deep kick after 99 straight on side attempts… that would fool them…

  7. Dog in Fla

    Mark won’t give up punting because he would be unilaterally disarming one of the most lethal weapons in Willie’s defensive arsenal – Brett Butler – and the thing Mark wants to do for Willie is to make sure that

  8. Left to Right

    While a college or pro coach may not want to go for it as often as Kelly does, it certainly seems that they should go for it on fourth down far more often than they do now.

  9. Ben Rockwell

    I read something similar to this a while back (maybe at Smart Football?), and I don’t know if it was the same guy or not. Regardless, I’d like to see the staff put some GAs to work on crunching these numbers on the SEC level to see what works out. Giving an offense like the Dawgs had last year and looks like they’ll have this year a few more opportunities a game couldn’t be bad at all.

    The question to ask, though, is how quickly will fans turn on a staff that plays like this? If it works, it’s ballsy. If it doesn’t work, it’s stupid.

    Thanks, Senator, for the links!

  10. sUGArdaddy

    I read the SI article and found it intriguing. A couple things of note. College kickers can kick it much farther than H.S. kids, which makes his logic work. And, you’ve really got to go for it all the time for it to work itself into your regular play calling. You’ve got to get used to using 4 plays to get a first down and to do that you’ve got to do it all the time.

    Now the interesting thing in all of this is that they spend/waste virtually no practice time on kickoff coverage, punt return, punt team, FG/Ex. Pt. team. Essentially, they just practice onside kicks and kickoff return. That’s an intriguing part of it all.

  11. it’s a good way to play football, perhaps they should give the coach five downs with no kicking option.

  12. Atlchris

    If he tried this in high school football in Georgia, he would probably get beat.. A lot…

  13. Castleberry

    This article is great, but…

    The numbers WILL be much different in college.

    1. His go for it on third down numbers are based off a much lower net punting average for a high school punter.

    2. The onside kick in high school would be from the 4o not the 30. So, even with lousy kick coverage, you’re talking about giving up a lot more yards for a chance at the ball.

    Still, there are a lot of 3rd and long situations around midfield where I’d love us to run – knowing it will set up a short 4th down. I just wouldn’t won’t us to do that from our own 20.