Angled Kickoffs & The Personal Protector

Dalton Witherspoon

Dalton Witherspoon lines up for a kick / photo by Mario Puente

Matt Hogan kicked the ball for four years at UH.

This was a tale of two halves with the Cougars putting on a show in the first half only to come out of the locker room at the break and look abysmal.

The bright spot on special teams this week is that Dalton Witherspoon stepped up and made all of his field goals this week – he’s’ now 4/4 on the year. The first field goal came about after a great play by D’Eriq King. On 3rd and 21, King didn’t try and do too much to get a first down. He got some yards – yards that most defenses are willing to give you underneath – and got his kicker in range.

It didn’t end up mattering in a game like this but it will in a tough, close conference game. And it could be the deciding factor.

The Personal Protector On Punt Team

There’s one play I want to highlight from the 4th quarter. It was pretty interesting: it didn’t end up mattering (nullified by penalty), was a heady play by one Cougar, and also a terrible one for the punt team. It was PV’s TD on the punt return: even though the play didn’t stand, you better believe opposing special teams coaches will be looking at it.

Dane Roy’s PP (Personal Protector) Donavan Mutin clearly spent some time watching PV’s punt return film this week. Bill Belichick says the PP is “one of the toughest spots to play” in the sport. At the college level, with very little time to watch special teams film or even practice punt team, it becomes an even tougher spot to play. Regardless, Mutin does the job very well.

There are a lot of variables for the PP to consider and a good personal protector takes all them into consideration. He is the QB of the punt return and also the last line of defense for the punter – even if the play breaks down, the PP can still save you from a blocked kick.

Mutin showed great recognition to notice PV’s formation and that they were coming for the block. He asked for outside help to shift down to the line of scrimmage to provide extra blocking in the gaps. This recognition tells the punter that his job is to get the ball off as quickly as possible to avoid the rush.

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For the guys on the line, even though they are staying in to block longer with such a big rush, they still need to get down the field and keep lane integrity while doing it. The return team didn’t keep their lanes which is what led to the TD.

UH was fortunate it was brought back due to a block in the back well down the field. (the penalty occurred after the returner had gone 24 yards down the field – it wasn’t responsible for allowing a long return).

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Also to note: The punt block team had a great block – they took advantage of a poor snap. The gunner took the ball off the punters foot as opposed to running right through him and risking a penalty.

Angled Kickoffs: Why Does UH Do It?

Note: In the first 10 minutes of the game, three kickoffs went out of bounds: PV’s opening kick, Witherspoon’s kickoff after the first TD, and PV’s kick after their field goal. Witherspoon also had a kickoff out of bounds in the opener.

The angled kickoff forces the returner to your coverage team’s strong side of the formation. For example: if you are trying to force the returner to the left but kick it down the middle of the field and he breaks right, he could break one tackle and be gone.

Coaches think it is an added advantage to force the returner to one side to have your protection set up and they are 100% right. The biggest concern is that sometimes, a kicker will ‘wrap his foot around a kick’ and kick it out of bounds. That’s what Witherspoon has done twice this season.

If I were a head coach, I would try a hybrid version of the angled kickoff. I would have the kicker place the ball on the hash opposite of their kicking foot. Right footed kickers would line up on the left hash and vice versa. When you hit a kick, the natural tendency is for it to draw across your swinging plane motion. Think of this similar to a golf swing.

I would have the kicker then kick it straight down the hash and let the natural draw of the flight pattern push it closer to the numbers. And if it ends up dead straight the coverage team is still angling their pursuit to that left side.

After Witherspoon’s KO out-of-bounds Saturday, Kyle Ramsey handled kickoffs the rest of the night. Five of 6 of his kickoffs were touchbacks.