FanPost

South Carolina's Special Teams Issues

Stacy Revere

The-mortified-punter1_medium

There has been a lot of chatter about South Carolina's special teams this season. Specifically, most of it has been around whether they are bad, and where/why are they bad. I decide to break down and analyze South Carolina's special teams performance through the first ten games. The quick answer is yes, the special team play is bad and it's bad everywhere except on field goal attempts.

Special teams can be broken down into three components: punting, kickoffs, and field goals. There are elements a team can and can't control. A team can control all aspects of performance when it is the team kicking the ball (e.g., kickoff distance, kick return allowed, field goal accuracy). However, when the team is on returning kicks or on defense, it can only control the return game (i.e., the length of the kick/punt and field goal accuracy for most part are out of the defense/return team's control).

Summary

For those who are too busy or lazy to read the whole post, below you'll find the summary of South Carolina's performance in the three phases.

  • Special teams cost USC 2.8 points per game (1.5 points lost in kickoffs, 1.8 points lost in punting, 0.5 points gained on field goals)
  • Kickoff distance is above average except USC kicks it out of bounds way too often
  • South Carolina returns too many kickoffs out of the end zone, all returns are shorter on average, and the returns are fumbled too frequently
  • South Carolina loses almost 5 yards on every punt exchange (i.e., when both teams punt) due to shorter punts (that sometimes go out of bounds) and shorter punt returns
  • Elliot Fry has been more accurate than other placekickers, but has not attempted a field goal over 45 yards

And here's the summary of fixes. Some are easy while others are extremely hard to implement. Simply taking a touchback whenever possible is worth a almost a full point per game. The rest of the fixes are much more difficult. Who knows, maybe someone on the team will see this and will find it enlightening.

  • Stop returning kickoffs out of the end zone to improve field position and reduce fumbles (easy to implement, worth 0.9 points per game)
  • Stop kicking out of bounds on kickoffs, try to kick the ball down the middle of the field since the kickoff coverage is fine (somewhat harder, worth ~0.25 points per game)
  • Improve punt returns, likely through improved blocking (very hard, worth 0.3 points per game)
  • Reduce shank % to average (very hard, worth 0.1 points per game)
  • Improve punt distance to average (very hard, worth 0.6 points per game)

Kickoffs

For the most part, South Carolina's problems in kickoffs are concentrated in the return game. The Gamecocks return too many kickoffs. Almost 50% of kicks to the end zone are returned, versus 35% for all other FBS teams. When South Carolina does attempt a return, they average only ~19 yards per return (again this is below average). Finally, South Carolina fumbles 15%(!) of kickoff returns versus an average of 3%.

Landon Ard has been above average in most metrics. He has a higher touchback % and has a slightly higher than average kick length. His one issue is that he kicks it out of bounds too frequently, which is not surprising to anyone who has watched multiple games this year. South Carolina's kickoff coverage has been fine too.


Average

USC kicking

USC receiving

Kickoffs per game

5.6

6.0

4.3

Kickoff length

61.2

61.7

62.5

Touchback %

38%

43%

37%

Kicked out of bounds

2%

8%

0%

% returned out of end zone

35%

30%

48%

% returned total

58%

48%

63%

Average return yards

21.3

20.6

18.6

Average return yards on kicks to end zone

23.9

22.8

21.7

% of returns fumbled

3%

0%

15%

Avg starting yardline

26.3

26.6

23.4

Net points gained per kickoff


0.0

-0.3

Net points gained per game


-0.1

-1.4

Punts

In punting, South Carolina's problems are spread across both kicking and receiving. When South Carolina is kicking, the main problem is bad punt accuracy and distance. The ball goes out of bounds too much, likely meaning a shank, and the punts are not as long as the FBS average.

When South Carolina is returning, the problem is concentrated in below average return yards. I've noticed that the returner hardly ever has a lane to run in or blocking setting up a good return. Even last year Ace Sanders would have to make a couple people miss to set up his good returns.


Average

USC kicking

USC receiving

Punts per game

5.1

3.8

4.9

Average punt length

41.2

37.4

41.7

% of punts returned

32%

26%

39%

% of punts fair caught

27%

32%

29%

% of punts downed

20%

24%

18%

% of punts out of bounds

10%

18%

6%

% of punts touchback

8%

0%

8%

Average punt return

8.6

8.5

4.3

Average net yards

38.4

35.2

40.0

Average punt length on returns

43.9

39.2

43.7

Average punt length on non returns

40.0

38.5

40.4

% of returns fumbled

9%

10%

5%

Net points gained per punt


-0.2

-0.1

Net points gained per game


-0.6

-0.4

Field Goals

Continue the Frysman campaign! As you've noticed, Elliot Fry has been more accurate than the average FBS kicker. Fry has provided more value than expected on field goal attempts in all games except against Missouri and Tennessee. In the Mississippi State and Kentucky games, he provided almost 2 points above average in each.

South Carolina has also benefitted from misses by opposing kickers. Missouri's kicker cost his team about 4 points, and Florida's kicker was worth ~2 points below average. Even Tennessee's kicker was slightly below zero in that close loss. (Fry was worth ~2 points below average that game, unfortunately equaling the margin of defeat.)

Here is a breakdown of Elliot Fry and South Carolina opponents' accuracies versus the average kicker.


Average

USC kicking

USC "defending"

Field goals per game

3.2

2.1

1.8

50+ yard success rate

45%

N/A

100%

45-50 yard success rate

52%

N/A

0%

35-45 yard success rate

69%

75%

100%

Less than 35 yard success rate

86%

100%

75%

Net points gained per kick


0.2

0.1

Net points gained per game


0.5

0.3

Final thoughts

I was surprised to see that kickoff and punt coverage are both okay. I suppose watching the rest of the special teams play just had me convinced that the coverage units were under performing as well.

I would like to see South Carolina take a touchback on every kick to the end zone. This immediately takes away the risk of a fumble. Why risk it?--plus those 25 yards are more than what the return would be.

The rest of the issues will likely persist for the remainder of the season. I doubt Hull and Ard can quickly improve their mechanics. And blocking on kick returns is something that needs to be practiced. I can live with these if the team could just cut out the fumbles and bad returns out of the end zone.

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