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PSU Potluck - Eatin' Green Stuff

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There are lots of delicious Italian salads. I love Caprese...slices of thick, fresh tomato, alternated with fresh mozzarella cheese, and big fat basil leaves. That's not this. Regular dinner salad is a bowl of fresh greens, including some arugula, salt, pepper, oil, and balsamic vinegar. Pretty basic...Midwestern almost.

In a good Italian household, salad comes after dinner. This isn't a fancy affair...in fact it's probably the most B1G course of the evening. So, in that tradition, let's talk punting.

Penn State's punting (and special teams in general) sucked since 2011...you can see what I mean in the table below:

Year

Avg Punts Per Game

Avg. Distance

2015

6.2

39.3

2014

5.9

36.6

2013

4.6

37.9

2012

4.3

37.4

2011

5.6

40.9

2010

4.5

40.0

2009

4.5

41.0

As you can see, punts per game is up and distance is down. It's hard to flip the field when your punter can't boot it more than 36 yards or so. In 2015, we punted so often we tied for 8th most punts in the country. By far the most punts in the B1G.

To be fair, the average distance rose this year on a whole lot more punts too. But compared to the national average, we were still terrible. Our average yards per punt ranked 108th...net yards per punt was 109th. That's fucking pathetic.

I'm a stickler for great special teams. If your special teams are a liability, you won't be for than a fair team. I don't care how great everything else is, if you can't execute when you have to, you are going to lose the big game...looking at you Michigan.

To steal an example from this year's team, in the bowl game we punted six times (about the average) but our yards per fell to 36.5. It was a close game that we lost. It's fine to blame it on losing our starting QB in the first quarter...or the defense failing to make critical plays. However, I see a failure in punting.

So, B1G peers...how do you see punting? Is it critical to winning? Is it a fun thing to watch when your team can't make a first down...ever? Or is it something that you ignore, because it just comes organically from an elite football team?

Aaron Yorke: This is a Big Ten blog. Of course we love and appreciate punting. If Joe Paterno didn't feel the same way, Penn State would have stayed independent and not bothered with all these ridiculous trips to Wisconsin and Iowa.

GF3: Jim Tressel put it best when he declared the punt to be "the most important play in football." The slow, inexorable tilting of the field is huge component to maximizing a team's chance of winning. Whether you look at it from a playbook stance, from a field goal stance, or from a probability stance, the advantage of field position is undeniable.

DJ: From what I've gathered in my two years of Maryland being in the Big Ten is that the Big Ten loves its punters.  Answering the question though: Yes, punting can be a great weapon when you can flip the field when the offense sputters.  Booting it a net 36 yards from your 24 yard line? That's not going to do much for you.

Stew: Ferentz is the coach of my favorite team, so I'm forced to take the position that punting is the most critical portion of the game.  Tales of Reggie Roby are passed down in Iowa like the stories of Ulysses.  Multiple scholarships are spent in the hopes of dominating the position.  That all being said, Iowa just entered the realm of college football reality last season, adopting the shield formation instead of the traditional NFL formation.  Don't scoff, it makes a significant difference in the ability to get down the field and prevent returns.  Worth about 3-4 first downs per game.

C4B: I would rather not see any punting at all, but that's because I've watched my team do far too much of it. It can certainly change field position when it's going well, but is terrifying to watch when it doesn't. It seems as though your recent punters have come down with a case of the Hagerups, so I advise strongly that you quarantine them until they get over it, or you'll be doomed to terrible punts for years to come.

Brian: Yes, punting is important. Even with high-flying offenses like the in one Columbus, don't underestimate the value of a good punter. Michigan's Blake O'Neill will likely be remembered primarily for his non-punt against Michigan State, which is a shame, because he not only uncorked the occasional 80-yarder, but he also dropped more punts inside the 20-yard line than any Wolverine in recent memory (nearly half of his punts were downed inside the 20). At times it seemed like Michigan's punt coverage team had more fair catches, corralling O'Neill's punts, than did the opposing punt return team.  But with punting, sometime it's more obvious when you don't have a strong punter than when you do have one. Someone who routinely booms 40-50 yarders is obviously a valuable weapon, but what really stands out is when a punter uncorks a 25-30 yarder. Its deflating effects are obvious and immediately felt.

AlNamiasIV: If I told you I could give you a player who would force the opposing offense to have to get one more first down per drive in order to score, you'd take that player wouldn't you? That is what a strong punter does for a defense. Punting probably doesn't matter in the wild and wacky, high-octane world of the Big 12, but in most other football conferences, college and pro, it's critical.

MNW: Hi. This question is relevant to my interests.

By far the most punts in the B1G.

First, no, Penn State did not punt most of any Big Ten team in 2015. That honor would go to Northwestern, where Hunter fuckin' Niswander punted 85 times for a total of 3227 yards (37.96 ypp). Danny Pasquariello and Chris Gulla Gulla Island, meanwhile, combined to punt 81 times for a total of 3182 yards (39.28 ypp). So, respectfully, just another metric where Penn State loses to Northwestern -- being shitty at punting. SUCK IT. We do it more, and we do it worse.

That got away from me.

One thing I do think is helpful, given your remark about the 36.5 ypp average in the bowl game, is to analyze each of the PSU punts in the TaxSlayer.com Bowl:

4th and 1 at PSU 30

(5:52 - 1st) Daniel Pasquariello punt for 44 yds , Isaiah McKenzie returns for a loss of 1 yard to the Geo 25

4th and 3 at UGA 40

(3:15 - 1st) Daniel Pasquariello punt for 35 yds, downed at the Geo 5

4th and 3 at UGA 47

(14:54 - 2nd) Daniel Pasquariello punt for 35 yds, fair catch by Terry Godwin at the Geo 12

4th and 4 at PSU 23

(1:54 - 2nd) Daniel Pasquariello punt for 35 yds, punt out-of-bounds at the Geo 42

4th and 9 at PSU 21

(10:57 - 3rd) Daniel Pasquariello punt for 39 yds , Isaiah McKenzie returns for 37 yds to the PnSt 23

4th and 9 at PSU 39

(10:56 - 4th) Daniel Pasquariello punt for 31 yds, punt out-of-bounds at the Geo 30

Now, the first three Pasquariello punts are excellent. The first flips the field and limits return (done less often in college when the punter is hitting it 44 yards). The second and third, both #B1G in the sense of punting inside the 50, are I-20 punts (putting Pasquariello at a respectable 33% for the game).

The last three, however, backed Penn State into a corner. Georgia scored after the OOB punt at the 42, driving 58 yards in 7 plays to score right before half. That's bad bad bad. The second was returned to the PSU 23, and if I remember listening to it on the radio as I drove back from fucking Tampa, was the product of a line-drive punt that beat the PSU coverage down the field. That's also bad bad bad, especially if you're only kicking it 39 yards! The last one turned out to be benign, as Georgia's drive stalled and Penn State got a shot at the win.

Given Pasquariello's stats, I can certainly see why he was pretty maligned as a punter, but there's some value in 50% of those punts at the TaxSlayer.com Bowl. But obviously you'd like more out of your punter, especially in terms of distance, if he's kicking out of bounds anyways. There's something to be said for Niswander's fair catch fate, no doubt, even if he's only kicking it 37 yards a pop.

What happened here? What was the question?

I say this no doubt more than a little biased towards punting, but punting is really, really fucking important. I always scoffed at the two coaches in high school who would always find/high five me during warmup stretching and tell me I was the "most important defensive player on the team," but yeah, in a way, sure. That doesn't make punting a fun thing to watch, especially when your punter ranges from mediocre-to-abysmal. But there's some satisfaction, to be sure, when your punter booms one over the returner's head or drops it (Peter Mortell-style) on the 1. And, as my inimitable colleagues have noted, Field Position Matters.