The Third Phase: Faking It

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Would you look at that, it’s time for another edition of the Third Phase — otherwise known as America’s Favorite Column about punting. (Okay, I don’t have any verifiable facts to back this statement up, but I don’t see anybody else trying to stake that claim).

I have a couple of topics I’d like to go over for this edition.

Fake Punts: REALLY?

There comes a point in a game where a team faces a fourth down and they’re struggling and desperately need something to go their way. Some schools feel the need to take a risk and go for it on fourth down. The worst thing that could happen is you turn it over on downs.

The reality is, you need all 11 guys on the field to successfully work together to get that first down. Your punter could do everything right, but if someone misses a blocking assignment, it’s not going to end well.

Chances are, if you watch enough college football, you’ll see a team try a fake punt. It either works or it doesn’t. There is no in between.

Our first example comes courtesy of the Boise State/Virginia game from Friday night. Roll that beautiful Dr. Saturday footage!

So what went wrong? The punter did his job by selling that the snap went high. Unfortunately, everything else went wrong. The upback couldn’t hold onto the ball after receiving the direct snap.

Once that happens, you need to worry about keeping the situation from going worse. You know you’re turning it over. The last thing you need is for your opponent to take it in and, oh, I don’t know, score.

Whether the play would’ve worked or not, who knows. Even if the upback held onto the ball, there’s no guarantee he would’ve made the first down. You never know with fake punts.

Not sold yet? What about the one from the Missouri-Auburn game Saturday night?

The blockers did their thing on this fake punt, but punter Corey Fatone wasn’t able to pick up the first down.

What makes this play worse was that Missouri wasn’t even in a comfortable position to do a fake punt play on fourth down. And I realize there is no such thing as a comfortable field position. But there are much riskier spots to try it.

It’s risky enough to do the play at midfield. Field position is important and you want to give your defense a chance to stop the opposing offense. But when you’re deep on your own side, you have a very low margin of error. You need everything to be perfect.

I have one more example of a bad fake punt and this one is from Friday night between Utah and Arizona.

I’ll let this speak for itself.

Preparation is everything. Teams work so hard to get everything right in other aspects of the game. I’m curious to know how much time is spent on fake punts. Take a look at that fake punt from Utah. What happened? Everything went wrong!

Truth be told, if I coached, I probably wouldn’t do a fake punt play. I’d much rather go for it on fourth down with the offense on the field. There is way too much risk in putting your punting team out there as a way to try and pick up the first down. They shouldn’t have to get that first down for you.

There is too much risk in putting your punting team out there as a way to try and pick up the first down. They shouldn’t have to get that first down for you. YOUR OFFENSE should get that first down.
Please don’t make me use the clapping emoji!

I’d make an exception if I knew the punter was also a terrific quarterback, but don’t put your players in that position. You risk giving up yards and also losing players to injury.

It’s not an effective smokescreen if you’re caught in the smoke with your adversary.

Penn State Punting

Obviously, we’re all still talking about what an incredible game Penn State and Iowa turned out to be.

Since this is a punting column, I think it’s worth pointing out how brilliant Blake Gillikin was Saturday night.

Of Gillikin’s four punts, three of them were downed well within the 10. One punt made it all the way to the Iowa one-yard line. In fact, that punt would lead to a safety and put Penn State ahead 5-0 at the time.

The average doesn’t show it because only one of Gillikin’s punts went more than 40 yards. The one that did went 52 in the second half.

Gillikin did what he needed to do for his team. The game was obviously going to be close. To get that kind of production out of Gillikin is terrific.

On a different subject, I realize “some” people aren’t happy that Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley punted the ball in celebration after defeating Iowa on the final play.

Personally, I don’t care. I’m not looking to get into arguments about sportsmanship here. You all can argue about that on your own time. Maybe I’ll argue about it at a later point.

What matters more is that McSorley is pretty good at punting.

I hope Penn State Head Coach James Franklin uses this opportunity as a way to utilize his star quarterback for quick kick purposes.

If he does that, I can guarantee that Penn State will have the best punting unit in all of college football.

This could be a way to take over the world. THINK ABOUT IT!

Most Punts/Fewest Punts

The honor of punting the most during the week of games belongs to Purdue’s Joe Schopper. In the loss to Michigan, Schopper punted the ball 11 times. The 11 punts are in fact a career-high for Schopper, who averaged 39.9 per punt.

For fewest punts, we had quite a few players finish with one punt for the game. However, I’m just going to choose one and go with Washington’s Joel Whitford. He made the most out of his one punt against Colorado, which went 51 yards.

Punters of the Week Awards

Once again, the Third Phase and the Ray Guy Award Punter of the Week went to different people. It’s cool though. We can’t agree on everything, ya know.

We teased it a bit above, but the punter of the week award for us goes to Penn State’s Blake Gillikin. You can read his stats above. He did a terrific job of punting in the Iowa game for the Nittany Lions.

Meanwhile, the Ray Guy Punter of the Week goes to Maryland’s Wade Lees.

In Saturday’s loss to Central Florida, Lees punted the ball seven times and averaged 47.1 per punt.

Conveniently, I mentioned both Gillikin and Lees in the preview (although I picked Gillikin as a punter to watch).

I’m very excited to see what these two guys do for the remainder of the season. By the way, these two punters will face off in the final week of the regular season. The Third Phase Punter of the Year award could possibly come down to those two guys.

Either way, I suggest you mark your calendar for November 25. It’s not like there is any other important game that day.