2010 Football Position Previews: The One Where Billy Chooses Theme Music – Special Teams

It's August. Fall practice starts today. So naturally, it's time for some serious positional breakdowns. But you can read those anywhere, and of course we here at And The Valley Shook like to stand out. And occasionally break out into song. This means you, dear reader, get some musical accompaniment.

They've been a frequent punching bag over the years, but this year one of LSU's clear strengths is on Special Teams.


/extends Metal symbol above head.

/bangs head Beavis & Butt-Head style.

Depending on the offense improvement and what happens with the new defensive personnel, it's more than likely going to come in handy having quality special teams up LSU's sleeve in 2010.

Overview/Review

LSU's special teams in 2009 were a case of a few ugly moments overshadowing a largely excellent year - and of cursory statistics not telling the entire story.

The ugly moments came in a series of gaffes (in bad weather) versus Mississippi State that cost LSU roughly 11 points.  Long-snapper Alex Russian botched two snaps (and nearly a third) that led to a missed extra point and a botched punt that gave State the ball on the goal line, while Josh Jasper missed a 29-yard field goal in the third quarter. Those factors, in addition to a kick-off return average that ranked last in the SEC and 109th nationally had fans generally grouchy with special teams coach Joe Robinson. But, as you can see in numbers that will be explained further below, the Tigers actually stacked up extremely well compared to the rest of the SEC.

 

NET KO

NET KOR

NET PUNT

NET PR

AVG

LSU

1.00

3.00

3.00

1.00

2.00

Kentucky

5.00

2.00

5.00

3.00

3.75

Alabama

8.00

1.00

6.00

2.00

4.25

Florida

2.00

7.00

1.00

9.00

4.75

Mississippi

4.00

5.00

4.00

6.00

4.75

Georgia

10.00

10.00

2.00

4.00

6.50

Arkansas

6.00

6.00

11.00

7.00

7.50

Vanderbilt

3.00

9.00

7.00

12.00

7.75

Auburn

7.00

4.00

10.00

11.00

8.00

Mississippi State

11.00

8.00

12.00

5.00

9.00

Tennessee

9.00

11.00

8.00

10.00

9.50

South Carolina

12.00

12.00

9.00

8.00

10.25

(All research tables courtesy of commenter Amiznit - who is clearly worthy of plunder and womens.)

Let's start with kick offs. It's especially hard to believe the kick return average was so low when you had somebody like Trindon Holiday, who could do this:


 

The kick return average in this scenario is kind of like comparing a baseball player's batting average to his on-base percentage. It just doesn't tell the whole story of how well he's doing his job. And just as batting average doesn't account for the number of times a player reaches base without getting a hit, kick-off return average doesn't account for sky or directional kicks - which can clearly affect a returner's performance.

 

KOR

Team

OPP KO

LSU KOR

NET

RANK

Alabama

58.68

23.32

35.36

1.00

Kentucky

59.55

23.25

36.30

2.00

LSU

55.57

19.15

36.42

3.00

Auburn

60.21

23.70

36.51

4.00

Mississippi

60.04

23.22

36.82

5.00

Arkansas

60.76

23.76

37.00

6.00

Florida

63.44

26.38

37.06

7.00

Mississippi State

62.73

24.82

37.91

8.00

Vanderbilt

60.19

22.26

37.93

9.00

Georgia

60.49

22.12

38.37

10.00

Tennessee

64.01

24.02

39.99

11.00

South Carolina

61.65

21.28

40.37

12.00

 

In short, LSU's net kick return figures show that in 2009, Holiday received the (BALCO era) Barry Bonds treatment from opposing kick-off teams. He didn't get much that he could actually hit. The average kick-off in the conference traveled 60.61 yards. The average kick-off received by LSU traveled just 55.57 yards. The average SEC return was 23.1 yards, LSU's average was 19.15. But when you factor these results against the standard kick-off distance of 70 yards (from the 30-yard line obviously), the result is that LSU's average starting field position was at the 33.5-yard line - good for a ranking of third in the conference. So basically, because Holiday could do this:



 

teams avoided kicking to him directly as much as possible, and despite LSU's low kick-return average overall, the kick-off team generally still left the Tigers in good field position.

Meanwhile, LSU actually led the league in kick return defense - giving up an average return of 17.52 yards on an average kick of 60.99 yards (so opponents started, on average, at the 26.5-yard line).

Kicker Josh Jasper returns after hitting 17 field goals on 20 attempts last year - including six of eight on kicks longer than 40 yards. The only reason he isn't considered the league's top dog at his position is, well, the SEC is loaded at kicker.

Punting was a clear strength of the team last year despite a team net punt average of 38.92. While that average seems low, LSU allowed just 4 yards per return. Subtract that from the punt average and you get a net of 34.92 yards, good for third in the conference. What this really means, is that the dreaded spread punt formation (dubbed "punt ugly" by the Humanoids) actually does what it's designed to do - protect the punter while getting as many gunners out into coverage as quickly as possible.

 

Punt Coverage

Team

LSU Punt

Opp PR

NET

RANK

Florida

43.41

4.20

39.21

1.00

Georgia

48.05

10.52

37.53

2.00

LSU

38.92

4.00

34.92

3.00

Mississippi

41.14

8.38

32.76

4.00

Kentucky

39.34

6.64

32.70

5.00

Alabama

41.50

9.18

32.32

6.00

Vanderbilt

42.24

9.97

32.27

7.00

Tennessee

41.30

10.27

31.03

8.00

South Carolina

41.88

13.03

28.85

9.00

Auburn

39.94

12.92

27.02

10.00

Arkansas

37.78

11.80

25.98

11.00

Mississippi State

38.94

13.31

25.63

12.00

 

And in 2010, punter Derek Helton returns, along with Jasper, who served as the occasional pooch punter, and averaged 37.3 with 10 downed inside the 20-yard line. Helton may not have the leg of a Patrick Fisher or Donnie Jones, but he's extremely consistent and came up with some clutch kicks when the team needed them last year.

Punt returns are another number extremely favorable to the Tigers - with a conference-leading net average of 21.35 per return. LSU had NINE TIMES more return yardage than opponents.

 

Punt Returns

Team

OPP Punt

LSU PR

NET

RANK

LSU

40.20

18.85

21.35

1.00

Alabama

42.04

15.05

26.99

2.00

Kentucky

39.71

12.52

27.19

3.00

Georgia

40.01

11.09

28.92

4.00

Mississippi State

39.53

10.07

29.46

5.00

Mississippi

40.04

10.43

29.61

6.00

Arkansas

39.44

8.47

30.97

7.00

South Carolina

38.88

7.87

31.01

8.00

Florida

40.16

7.50

32.66

9.00

Tennessee

43.33

9.33

34.00

10.00

Auburn

42.29

4.46

37.83

11.00

Vanderbilt

42.99

4.81

38.18

12.00

 

What is there to like?
(Since I included so much 2009 info, let's actually talk about 2010 shall we?)

1.       Josh Jasper. He was a big worry entering last season. Partially because he was replacing one of the best kickers in school history in Colt David. But he came through big time, particularly with three 40-plus yard kicks against Arkansas, including a 41-yarder to send the game into overtime. Jasper even drilled a 57-yarder into a headwind in the spring game. If the offense still struggles to get going, at least the Tigers know they can get points consistently once they cross the 35.

2.       Patrick Peterson. No. 7 will be manning the punt return spot (and possibly kicks as well), and with his incredible speed and natural athleticism (not to mention size - he is 211 pounds after all), he should be a natural in the return game. Besides, given that nobody throws his way when he's on defense, it'll be exciting just to see him with the ball in his hands some.

3.       Newcomers. Special teams will always be the fastest route to the field for freshmen. Brad Wing, if he's really as good as those videos look, might get wind up in the punting mix faster than any of us think. And Jakhari Gore, Eric Reid, Kadron Boone and Ronnie Vinson all strike me as guys that could wind up on the kick-off/return/punt teams this season.

What is there to worry about?

1.       Consistency. Holiday was a (tiny, tiny) double-edged sword on punts. As scary as was when he got a crease, you had to hold your breath that he'd actually catch the ball. And while having Chad Jones as the "safety punt" guy led to WOO CHAD JONES!!, punt returns were much more effective and less nerve-racking when Skyler Green or Domanick Davis were one-man shows. Hopefully, Peterson will provide that.

2.       Long snapper. Joey Crappell took the job from Russian after the Mississippi State game and things ran smoothly after that. Hopefully that will continue, but if there's one thing I've learned watching special teams at just about every level, is that long snapper is a position absolutely nobody worries about until something goes wrong.

3.       Kick returns. In the spring game Peterson paired with Ron Brooks on most of the returns. I can't lie, I think I'd rather Peterson at least get a break on kick-offs. At least part time. A spot like this is perfect for getting a guy like Gore on the field. Or Kadron Boone. It will be very interesting to see what winds up happening at this spot. Whoever winds up back there, it's safe to suggest he'll get more quality return chances than Holiday did.

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