Nick Saban likes a challenge.

Okay, the Jon Fabris analogy is a little unfair, because I have to admit that this actually makes sense.

If you missed the news, the NCAA has changed a kickoff rule which will go into effect immediately next season. The rule change makes any fair catch on a kickoff result in the ball being dead and giving the receiving team the ball on the 25-yard line.

The Crimson Tide coach was asked to share his thoughts on the rule change during his latest media availability.

“I would have liked to have seen a different solution. I understand the reason, I respect the reason — which is player safety, but I guess I’ve been around long enough to remember when we use to kick off from the 40-yard line,” Saban said. “There were too many touchbacks, so we moved it back to the 35.

“So, for us old timers, I thought it would be an easier solution to just move it back up to the 40-yard line, because you’d get more touchbacks but you could still sky kick, onside kick — which you can still do some of those things, but you sky kick trying to give someone bad field position and they can fair catch the ball on the 15-yard line and get it on the 25.

“That takes some of the strategy out of the game, to me, with the result that we had. And you would have had the same result if you just moved it up five yards because almost everybody in college football would kick nothing but touchbacks… and you still would have all the strategies that you could have used in other circumstances.”

Really, having thought about it, it’s hard not to reach a conclusion that if the NCAA is so concerned about kickoff injury issues that it came up with a rule that basically strips strategy out of the kicking team’s approach, perhaps it should eliminate kickoffs altogether.

34 Comments

Filed under Strategery And Mechanics, The NCAA

34 responses to “Nick Saban likes a challenge.

  1. John Denver is full of shit...

    They still gotta catch the sky kick tho’.

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  2. Jack Burton

    Exactly. A fair catch isn’t going to stop the kickoff team from barreling down the field and creating collisions until they ball is caught.

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  3. JasonC

    I don’t agree with everything he says but sometimes he makes a lot of sense to me.

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  4. Go Dawgs!

    The main reason that I’m unhappy with kickoffs being watered down like this is that I feel like it’s going to create a situation where onside kicks are going to be harder to pull off. If you know that you can fair catch the ball anywhere inside the 20 and you’re up by a score or two late, why in the world would you even bother setting up a return? I would think you’d be putting everyone up on the line to play an onside kick whether you believed one was coming or not. Eliminating the kickoff entirely would be great for player safety, but it would eliminate most of the chance for a trailing team to make a comeback. I’m in favor of the targeting rule, the changes to kickoffs that were made a few years ago, etc. I’m in favor of most things that will make the game safer for players because I want them to live long and happy lives after football and I also want the game itself to continue. You’ll never make it completely safe, though. I think this is a bad rule change.

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  5. Yurdle

    I think Saban’s comment makes no sense. On the one hand, he says that people would just kick touchbacks from the 40, so player safety would be served. But then he says that people wouldn’t kick touchbacks, and they should be able to sky kick. Whither player safety? How would kicking from the 40 help?

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    • artful codger

      I believe he is saying that most teams preferred kickoff strategy is to put it in the end zone everytime, minimizing the chance of an effective return; with sky, directional, and onside kicks remaining an option for certain situations. But many if not most teams do not have a kicker who can end zone the ball consistently from the 35, thus many kicks unintentionally fall short and setup these ‘dangerous’ return scenarios. Kicking from the 40 would do away with most of these ‘unintentionals’.

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      • Especially at the non-P5 level

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      • Otto

        Agreed and many of us were baffled when they moved it to the 35. Majority of the kicks would be touchbacks from the 40 especially for P5 teams which as the kids get stronger faster injury is more likely. Spotting the ball on the 25 further increases the likeliness that the returner takes the touchback.

        However kick from does leave the option open for a game changing sky or squib kick. Sky and squib kicks are also likely to be caught by upmen who are more likely to fumble the ball.

        Saban is spot on with this one.

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  6. Russ

    This is just the first step in removing kickoffs all together.

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  7. Regarding your last sentence – I’m pretty sure that’s the ultimate destination, and probably at all levels of football. It’s just that they’re taking baby steps to get there to try to piss off as few people as possible along the way.

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  8. W Cobb Dawg

    I think the new rule will lead to more onside kicks. Since a lot of strategy is removed, a team may as well practice more onsides and fewer pooch, squib, etc. kicks.

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    • Actually I think Saban’s proposal would be more likely to lead to more onside kicks. The further up you move the kicks, that mitigates the field position you’re giving up if the onside kick fails. You gotta remember, as a general rule, college football head coaches are very risk averse. They’re only gonna take more chances if something reduces the risk if the play fails. The new rule doesn’t really do anything to reduce the risk.

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    • Otto

      The law of unintended consequences, one could also argue moving the kickoff from the 40 to the 35 lead up to this further damage of the game.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. 81Dog

    I heard Greg McElroy talking about Greg Schiano’s proposal from a few years ago on ESPN U radio yesterday. It’s certainly different, but I think I actually like the idea. Different strategy, but still strategy, and less 75 yard, full head of steam collisions among people who are bigger than lineman and faster than backs of 30 years ago.

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    • 83Dawg

      If I’m remembering correctly, he suggested giving the ball back to the scoring team on their own 35 or 40 yard line with a 4th and 15.

      They could choose to punt the ball away (or fake it) or run an offensive play to try to get the 15 yards and retain possession.

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      • 81Dog

        That’s basically the idea. McElroy said he suggested running stats for the last 30 years on the success rate for onside kicks, and then find a similar success rate on 4th and whatever. 15 yards, 18, whatever it is, put the kicking team in punt formation after a TD and let them punt, or fake, or just run a play. If they get to the marker, they keep the ball, if not, the other team takes over.

        It’s actually a football play, so it’s not too weird. The impacts are somewhat lessened, a trailing team can still try to retain possession, and a receiving team gets great field position if they withstand a fake punt. Many of the important aspects retained, collision speed lessened. I don’t recall hearing it before, but I kind of like it.

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  10. I’m still slow mentally on certain days due to the middle wedge on kickoff returns in high school. Thanks coach….

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  11. Dylan Dreyer's Booty

    I dunno, in my opinion, this is an opportunity for someone who is a ST coach to get creative. You can still kick through the endzone like most teams with good kickers choose to do. Some receivers still feel like “I can bust one” and try to beat the 25, but end up at the 17 instead. We’re talking about 18,19, 20 year old athletes that think no one can keep up with their speed. So, that part really isn’t going to change much.

    You can still kick a line drive – yes, that hurts the coverage team because of lack of hang time – but they would be hard to handle on a fair catch. I can envision balls hitting guys in the hands and bouncing off, balls hitting right in front of the receiver and taking funny bounces, and yes, I can see coverage teams actually getting the ball where a field goal is a chip shot. Of course, onsides and squibs are still in play. There’s plenty to strategize about.

    Th only thing the rule discourages is pooch kicks, and as a UGA fan, I can say that isn’t a bad thing.

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    • JCDAWG83

      No, the only thing it really affects is the tactic of kicking a high arching kick to the 5 or 10 yard line and forcing the receiver to attempt a return and the coverage team being able to stop the returner short of the 20 or 25. There is a huge difference in a pooch kick and a kick that comes down inside the 5 or 10 after a 5 second hang time. If the ball is coming down on the 3, there is no incentive to do anything but fair catch the ball.

      A better change would have been to make the fair catch inside the 20 come out to the 20 instead of the 25.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Mayor

        Right JC. Last season Georgia kicked off intentionally landing the ball inside the 5 near the sideline as a tactic. Not all the time, but enough where it was a threat that kept the other team honest. We could do that because we had a good kicker. That is one of the advantages of having good personnel. This rule change takes that tactic away and lessons the impact of having a good kicker. Let’s just do away with kick-offs and punting because guys get hit running down the field–and while we’re at it let’s do away with the forward pass ’cause, you know, receivers get tackled after they catch the ball particularly when crossing the middle. And let’s change the rules and not allow the DL to rush the passer because, you know, the QB might get hurt. That would make things safer. And let’s make everybody tackle above the waist but below the head and neck area…and let’s……

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  12. I agree with Saban, move the kickoff up to the 40. The most dangerous returns are the driving kicks that come up short or just inside the goal line and the returnee decides to take it out of the endzone.

    IMO, the skykick scenario is actually NOT any more dangerous than a punt return because most of the defenders have slowed into a grounded “break down” mode to try and bottle up the return man. Similarly, there isn’t a wedge plowing forward at full tilt because they are hanging back waiting for the ball to drop. Anybody else agree ? Yep, this rule basically just screws things up for people with a talented kicker.

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  13. doofusdawg

    The onside kick is the most dangerous play in football. The only reason there are not more serious injuries is just a matter of numbers. I cringe whenever I watch an on side attempt.

    I would much rather be hit by someone if I can see them coming even if they have a head of steam. But the athletes today are at full speed after 10-15 yards anyway so I thing the 40 yard rationale is bogus.

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    • doofusdawg

      Was just thinking that a good way to make kickoffs safer would be to reduce the players from 11 to 9 on both sides. This gets the 4 biggest players off the field, creates more space which would require more athletic type players to cover the field causing less collisions. Might even create more big return plays which could make the game more attractive to the casual fan.

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  14. ApalachDawg

    Some PR firm told them to do it slowly.
    This is the first step toward flag football.
    Our kids maybe going to UGA rugby games as big time college entertainment instead of American college football

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