College Coaches Look To Adapt To New Kickoff Rules

College Coaches Look To Adapt To New Kickoff Rules

Football

College Coaches Look To Adapt To New Kickoff Rules


College football kicks off the 2018 season Saturday with four games that will have little bearing on the national title picture but could have an impact on how teams address a new college rule.

Special team coaches may be tuning in to some of Saturday’s games to see how teams address the NCAA’s new rule regarding kickoffs.  The previous kickoff rule was that any kickoff that crossed the goal line was a touchback, which automatically placed the ball on the 25-yard line. All other kicks were returnable. That rule is still in effect, but with one change. With the hope of creating more touchbacks and fewer returns, any ball fair caught inside the 25-yard line will now also be considered a touchback and the offensive team will start from the 25-yard line.

The intent is player safety. Studies have shown that the intensity of injuries increase on kickoffs. This despite kickoffs making up only a small percentage of total plays in a game.

Teams will be seeking twists to take advantage of the new rule. The high pooch kick, which teams utilized to pin the receiving team inside the 25 will most likely disappear. The old squib kick, where the kicker boots the ball hard along the ground and creating erratic bounces, may become popular when trying to pin the receiving team deep in their territory.

Football is a chess match of field position. Georgia’s Rodrigo Blankenship led the SEC in average kickoff length (64.9 yards) and percent of touchbacks (71.3%) in 2017.  Georgia’s opponents averaged 61.1 yards per kick with only 46.5% of their kickoffs resulting in touchbacks. Mecole Hardman Jr. was second in the conference in returns, averaging 25.5 yards return. Georgia’s opponents averaged more than six yards less per return. Considering that Hardman, on average, was receiving the kickoff at the Dawgs’ four yard line and returning it the 30, would he be instructed to fair-catch the ball inside the 25? On the other hand, Georgia’s opponents would be smart to fair-catch everything and begin at the 25.

Based on the work of Andrew Schechtman-Rook, a University of Wisconsin PhD, a team beginning a drive on its own 20 yard line has a 20% chance of scoring a field goal or touchdown. Beginning a drive on the 30 yard line increases the chances of scoring to 30%. Each ten-yard increment thereafter increases the chances of scoring by ten percentage points.

A coach can create a significant advantage for his team by taking advantage of the new kicking rules. Over an average of six kickoffs per team for each game, that four-yard differential between Georgia’s 2017 starting position and its opponents starting position can add up to quite an edge. It will be interesting to watch Saturday’s games and see how the teams adapt to the new rules.

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