Voice of the Fan: Kickoff returns from the end zone

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Kickoff returns from the end zone – the ugly stats
by “hokiesrule98”

View the message board thread by clicking here

Like everyone else, I am completely fed up with our guys catching kickoffs in the end zone, and then failing to make the 25, which would be gained by simply taking a knee. I went through each game log, pulled out the stats, and here they are.

We fail to make to the 25 yard line a whopping 86% of the time, and have only returned it past the 25 twice.

Total # caught in Endzone: 28
Total # of touchbacks: 14
Total # brought out from Endzone: 14
Total # caught in EZ, returned past 25: 2 (14%)
Total # caught in EZ, returned short of 25: 12 (86%)
Total yards lost returning balls caught in EZ: (-101)
Total yards gained returning balls caught in EZ: (+62)
Total NET yards from EZ returns: (-39)
Average starting position on balls returned from EZ: 20.1 yard line

Individual Stats – returning ball caught in Endzone
Newsome: 7 times – past 25 once. Returns (20, 18, 17, 9, 58, 19, 18)
Knowles: 4 times – past 25 once, Returns (16, 29, 20, 14)
Coleman: 3 times – past 25 zero, Returns (15, 19, 10)

Game by Game Log, Kick-off Receptions

William & Mary
WM2-Caught in EZ, returned to 20 (Newsome)
WM2-Caught in EZ, returned to 16 (Knowles)

Ohio State
OSU1-Caught at 5, returned to 22 (Newsome)
OSU2-Caught at 1, returned to 27 (Newsome)
OSU3-Caught at 3, returned to 23 (Knowles)
OSU4- Kickoff out of bounds, ball on 35

East Carolina
ECU4-Caught in EZ, returned to 15 (Coleman)
ECU5-Squib kick, caught at 22, returned to 36 (Hansen)

Georgia Tech
GT1-Caught in EZ, returned to 29 (Knowles)

Western Michigan
WM1-Caught in EZ, returned to 20 (Knowles)
WM2-Caught at 7, returned to 21 (Knowles)
WM4-Caught at 7, returned to 25 (Knowles)

North Carolina
UNC1-Caught in EZ, returned to 18 (Newsome)
UNC2-Caught in EZ, returned to 17 (Newsome)
UNC3-Caught in EZ, returned to 19 (Coleman)
UNC4-On side kick – VT recovery

PIT3-Kickoff out of bounds, ball on 35
PIT4-Caught in EZ, return to 9 (Newsome)

MIA1-Caught at 3, returned to 29 (Knowles)
MIA2-Caught in EZ, returned to 14 (Knowles)
MIA4-Squib kick, caught at 20, returned to 27 (Alford)
MIA5-Caught in EZ, 58 yard return to UM42 (Newsome)
MIA6-Caught at 10, returned to 23 (Coleman)

Boston College
BC1-Caught in EZ, returned to 10 (Coleman)
BC2-Caught at 10, returned 44 yards to BC46 (Coleman)
BC3-Caught in EZ, returned to 19 (Newsome)
BC4-Caught at 13, fumbled (Newsome)
BC5-Caught in EZ, returned to 18 (Knowles)


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23 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Thank you for pointing out something that has had a lot of us tearing our hair out. I think it would be safe to say that no KO caught clearly inside the goal line should be run out. It is just a low percentage play, plus one other thing … by running it out, you risk a game-changing fumble in the red zone!!! I have been amazed that our special team coach (who is that?) would not have figured this out long ago. Another special team concern … seems like we don’t kick many into the end zone, with many reaching only the 10 or 15 yard line.

  2. One mistake in the data. The long return was 58 yards to the UM 42. That was only a gain of 33 yards (beyond the 25), not 58 yards. The stats should be:

    Total yards gained returning balls caught in EZ: (+37)
    Total NET yards from EZ returns: (-64)

    Just thought I should let you know that the numbers are actually a bit worse. =^/

  3. Sour grapes here…pretty sure I posted something similar a few weeks ago and I didn’t get any pub for it. Search function isn’t working past November 1 (or it’s operator error) so I can’t find my original post. Larry sad.

    1. As to the content presented by hokiesrule98, it does not appear that our kickoff returns have improved since my analysis.

      I screamed, loudly, on the opening kick vs BC to kneel the ball…and we brought it out to the 10. Then tack on a block in the back. And a time-out. That’s a heckuva a way to start a game.

  4. I wish it were possible for your stats to also shed light on a) where the kick was caught in the end zone and b) the distance to the nearest defender when the ball is caught. In cases where the ball is caught right near the goal line, I feel less angry about the returner bringing it out. In cases where they catch it 2-3 strides deep in the end zone, they should almost never bring it out unless they see our blockers have pancaked nearly every gunner (or the gunners are lolly-gagging their way down the field). Also not available in the stats is the “vision” the returner has of the lanes that may or may not be there. Perhaps our coaches aren’t doing a good enough job of teaching the kids what looks like a good return blocking setup. Isn’t it the responsibility of the other returner who is not catching to analyze the return blocking and help the guy catching the ball decide what to do? If so, are they doing a good enough job according to the coaches?

    From the outside looking in (i.e. having no idea what the coaches are actually coaching the players to do; just my opinion as an in-the-stands coach) I would tell my returners from this point forward they should take a knee in the end zone UNLESS they have a VERY good feeling they can return it to at least the 25. Then, if they return it to only the 15, the entire unit that was on the field will be doing some kind of drill (sprints, stadium runs, etc.) in the next practice for each of the 10 yards they “lost”. That way the guys will either become more timid about returning out of the end zone (25yd line every time is A-OK) or the entire unit will become more motivated to get back faster, block better, and push for more YAC. Also, I would explain to the players that this is not a setup to punish the players for making a bad decision…rather its a system to trust the players to make the right decision and have them own up to whatever that decision is.

  5. So this analysis actually tells me this is not that big of an issue, which is what I suspected. Starting at the 19 or 20 on average is probably worth the chance of breaking a run past midfield or beyond 10% of the time.

    My biggest issue is just don’t block in the back. You can’t be running kicks out of the endzone if you’re: a) not good at it AND b) substantially likely to commit a penalty. If we could clean up the blocks in the back, I’d be in favor of running out kicks that are no deeper than, say, 2 to 3 yards into the EZ. If we can’t then we shouldn’t be running anything back and should be grateful every time the other team makes the mistake of kicking it that far.

    On the whole, I think we’re making too much of the returners and their skills/speed/decisions. Our KO return blocking and/or blocking scheme is probably the big culprit here.

    1. Totally disagree. With our offense, starting 5-10 yards further away from the end zone we need to reach is a big deal. It also hurts our D if we go 3 & out from the 15, it’s worse than going 3 & out from the 25. The “Average” start is skewed by the one return Newsome made vs Miami in a game we were already out of…that’s one I actually had no problem with since it couldn’t get worse.
      Otherwise, we’re in SO many close games (all our other losses are one score games) that 5-10 yds of field position absolutely could make a difference. Your “much ado about little” is exactly to the wrong attitude to take because it’s a culmination of a multitude of “little things” that have caused our losses

      1. Completely disagree. Because our offense is so disgraceful, it’s absolutely worth the risk of ~6 to 7 yards in field position for the possibility of greatly helping them score. That 5 to 10 yards isn’t why we aren’t scoring. Regardless of where we start, our possessions tend to fall into one of two categories: 1) 1 first down achieved or less, followed by a punt or 2) a foray into the scoring zone that bogs down specifically because of our inability to play power football (i.e. the field shrinks and we are out of options).

        Whether we start at the 18 or the 25 is largely irrelevant to our ability to score. When we stall at the 5 yard line, it’s not because we didn’t start at the 25…it’s because we can’t run effective offense from the 5 yard line. A much better example of where we’re mishandling the field position game comes in Beamer’s new-found ultra-aggressive approach to going for it on 4th and short. He passed on opportunities to punt against both Pitt and Miami that would’ve helped our defense with field position, and in both instances the defense immediately broke down definitively.

        Now having typed all of that…like I said in the original post, the equation changes dramatically when you throw in our propensity for blocking in the back. Until we fix the blocking situation (both in terms of quality and legality), I’m fine with taking every touchback we can possibly get. Because starting inside the 10 is a totally different story.

        1. Sorry, in the first paragraph I should’ve said that our “failed” possessions fall in one of those two categories. Obviously we have had many successful possessions this year.

          Putting my argument here another way, I seriously doubt we’ve lost a single football game this year because of running KOs out of the end zone. I mean, I just emphatically reject that premise. I might be underrating the possibility that it’s a mistake, but I do not believe in any way that it’s costing us wins.

    2. Well, the returner should take into account that he’s not going to get good blocking 90% of the time. It’s a kickoff return “team”. The results speak for themselves. With our Offense, we need every yard we can get. And we need to play the percentages. Like Bill and Mike said, that’s what other teams are doing against us, knowing we’re likely to make mistakes.

    3. Since this article is written only about kick-off returns, I’d like to point out that the BC game was the first time this year we received an illegal block call on a kick-off return. I went through the game summaries on HokieSports and found that we have 7 illegal blocks called against us so far this year, 6 of which were on punts, and 1 of those 6 was offset by the opponent’s penalty. So as far as kick-offs go, illegal blocks is a new thing this year. We need to clean them up on the punt returns, and we have to a certain extent:
      ECU: 2 illegal blocks on punts
      GT: 2 illegal blocks on punts
      UNC: 1 illegal block on punt
      UM: 1 illegal block on punt
      BC: 1 illegal block on kick off

      On the other side of the ball, only two teams have blocked us illegally: 1 by UNC and 1 by UM.

      1. You’re right, I’m totally conflating illegal blocks on KOs and punts.

        Then I’m officially in the camp of “keep running ’em out, boys!” 😉

    4. I’ll try and find the article but field position and field position advantage are one of the key metrics (it was one of 5) that are most closely associated with victory. If VT is losing approximately 5 yards every single drive, with very little likelihood of substantial return (only one kick has been returned past the 30 yard line), that amounts to possibly a large field position shift in a game. It all depends on how many scores the defense allows but 5 yards per possession is a big deal.

      For a point of reference teams that had a field position advantage greater than 5 yards won something like 75% of the time.

  6. I am in full agreement with the writer. However the focus seems to be on the returner when I feel the problem is with the blocking. There just aren’t any lanes. So taking a knee in the end zone makes sense. But at the same time why hasn’t the blocking on the return team improved? Which coach is responsible for the KO return ?

    1. The kicking team is now 5 yards closer to the end zone than they used to be. More tacklers are now downfield than they used to be so it’s got to be harder to block them all now.

  7. There are some here that are missing holding penalties that drove the starting field position back even further. The opening kick-off for the BC game started on the 5 yard line because after Coleman only got to the 10 yardline, a hold pushed us half the distance back. That hold isn’t going to happen if it’s a touchback.

  8. Was thining the same things. do the numbers include where we started the play after penalties?
    or where they were talked? if it is where they are tackled, then the numbers are even worse. (which is really really bad)

    Take the first return vs BC. he got it to the 10, but we blocked in back, so we actually started on the 5.

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