I hate the punt. I loathe punting when teams do it on the opponents side of the 50. I despise punting when teams are trailing late in the game.
In what other sport does the offense voluntarily give the opponent the ball? No baseball team has ever used just two of its three outs in an inning. Nah, weve swung enough. No basketball team just hands the ball to the opponent. Nah, weve missed enough shots.
But thats what football coaches at every level of the game do every week. I know we get four chances to gain 10 yards, but, you know what, were only going to use three.
They punt it away without thinking much about it. They punt it away even though studies and statistics suggest there are many, many situations when going for it makes more sense and increases a teams chances of winning.
The bottom line is the studies are not done by coaches, Utah State coach Gary Andersen said.
Without getting into the stats versus scouts (or data versus belief) argument that seems to be dominating our sports (and our politics) these days, let me just say that the studies are done by people much smarter than most coaches.
The difference is they dont have million-dollar salaries tied to the outcome of football games, unlike coaches who actually have to make the decisions. That can make you more adverse to risk.
Given my disdain for punting (in many situations), I was intrigued when San Diego State coach Rocky Long suggested this year that he might not kick at all past the 50-yard line. No punting and no field goals, either.
Long got his idea after reading about tiny Pulaski Academy in Little Rock, Ark., and its coach Kevin Kelley. His teams barely punt. Maybe once a year. They rarely use a punt returner, the reasoning being that a penalty or fumble is more likely than a big return. They onside kick a lot. Oh, and they win a whole bunch, too, including three state titles since 2003.
It makes sense. Additional plays would allow you to score a lot more points, Long told the San Diego Union Tribune in August. It also puts a whole lot of pressure on the defense.
Though he has been aggressive with fourth-down tries and two-point conversions, Long hasnt gone all-in. San Diego State has attempted 14 fourth-down conversions and converted nine the highest percentage in the league. The Aztecs have punted 32 times.
In our opinion, every time youre in a close football game youve got to take some chances to have a chance to win it, Long said this week. If its close, there will be some times we go for it on fourth down. If theres a close game, theres a good likelihood that well do it.
Air Force has punted 15 times and gone for it 22 times on fourth down. The 15 punts are the fewest in the Mountain West, and the 22 tries are the most.
We believe its important to utilize all four downs. It gives you some flexibility, especially with play-action passes on certain downs, Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said.
Boise State has punted 26 times, the second-fewest in the Mountain West. The Broncos have attempted eight fourth-down tries, converting on just one. Coach Chris Petersen said his decision is based primarily on field position and not putting his defense in a bad situation, but many other factors come into play.
Do you think you can get it? Do we have to score right now? Are we doing nothing offensively? Hows the defense? Petersen said.
If the Broncos are planning to go for it, they will let the quarterback know before third down since it might change his decision-making process.
Coaches said there are no hard and fast rules for when to punt and when to go for it.
It fits for different places. Some places theres an awful lot of merit defensively in taking advantage of the field position (you gain with a punt), Calhoun said. There will be times when the fourth-down try is unsuccessful and you better make sure you can live with it when that occurs, he said.
In todays friendly scoring environment, it makes even more sense to take risks. With the chances of stopping the other team lessened, why not avoid giving it to them?
More onside kicks. Less punts. More fourth-down tries.
A man can dream, cant he?