Matt Araiza of the San Diego State Aztecs made all kinds of headlines by becoming college football’s first-ever “punter” this year, winning the Ray Guy Award and setting a new record for total punt yards.
As many people have repeatedly established to you over the course of the year, Matt Araiza is indeed very good at punting the ball very far, perhaps comparably to Sebastian Janikowski’s legendary kicking leg. If you’ve been on the internet at all, you’ve been bombarded with this information, presented as his ascension to godhood and validation to venerate him above all others.
This is not to take anything away from him; he had a tremendous season with an unconventional approach and, like Janikowski, he has an NFL future ahead of him. I compared him to Andre Ware in the past, and this was perhaps unfair; it’s more like what would have happened if Jeff George had run that Houston offense instead of Ware. And perhaps he is still responsible for 2021 being a great punting season because the hype will make more people pay attention to the unsung heroes on special teams.
I’d also like to congratulate you, stranger, on your first unironic tweet appreciating a punter. Congratulations! You’re learning!
Actually, we have always been earnest and not the least bit ironic about our coverage of punting.
Araiza has been praised for BREAKING ALL ESTABLISHED CONVENTION by disregarding touchbacks, which combined with his talent for distance and a nation-leading 79 punts has produced over 4,000 gross punting yards. But while he was pioneering a different approach and sailing balls out of the end zone, two Big Ten punters did something more impressive and mastered the conventional approach to greater success.
My fellow redditor, let me put this to you in a way you’ll understand:
Adam Korsak was one of three punters to break 45 net yards per punt this season, with the others being Penn State’s PISS champion Jordan Stout and Oklahoma’s seldom-used Michael Turk. I haven’t seen stats updated from last night’s bowl game, but the latest I’ve seen has Araiza just ahead of Michigan’s Brad Robbins for sixth in the nation at 44.3. Net punting yards is a much more important stat than gross punting yards because the point of punting tactically is to gain as much field position as possible.
UPDATE: Our friends at On The Banks have confirmed that Korsak did indeed break the all time record for net punt yard average, which is the most important stat. His net punt yard per game average would also be higher than Araiza’s due to him punting more times per game. Congratulations!
While it’s true that Araiza used a different approach (touchbacks aren’t bad, outkicking your coverage doesn’t matter, etc.) to have much more success than an average college football punter, he did not leverage this into more success than the masters of the current paradigm. He landed 36 punts inside the 20, but had 15 touchbacks and 21 of his punts returned for 239 yards.
Korsak, on the other hand, punted 70 times, matched Araiza’s 36 inside the 20, and kicked no touchbacks. Korsak actually averaged slightly more punts per game than Araiza (because Rutgers football seasons are only 12 games long), so to have no touchbacks is absolutely incredible considering the amount of punts he landed inside the 20.
I personally saw Adam Korsak devastate Illinois in a game we lost by one touchdown. Had Matt Araiza been across the field from us instead of Korsak, our offense wouldn’t have been in deep trouble inside its own 5 as often. Starting at your own 20 gives you so much more cushion than inside your own 5. In a game where one good offensive drive could have won it, that could have made all the difference.
There is of course a compelling argument for Jordan Stout as well, but that’s not the article I’m writing. I would also like to mention that the aforementioned Turk currently has a higher yards-per-punt average than Araiza at 51.27 (Araiza’s fell to 51.19 last night).
You may now resume memeing.