The Third Phase: When a Block Changes Everything

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Oh, hello! I assume you’re here for another edition of the Third Phase, that punting column you keep hearing about. You want to get in on the fun and I totally understand. Check out my previous posts, if you need to. Let’s get things going!

The Turning Point

Chances are, at some point you tuned in Saturday to watch the Ohio State-Penn State game, even if you watched another game like I did (with the Iowa State-TCU game). It certainly turned out to be a classic and you probably wouldn’t see me include it in “The Worst.”

For those of you who watched, it wasn’t the best game for the Ohio State special teams. They did give up an opening kickoff return touchdown to Penn State running back and Heisman contender Saquon Barkley.

But the special teams unit for Ohio State came through when the Buckeyes needed it, even though it did come at the expense of Penn State punter Blake Gillikin.

Denzel Ward made arguably one of the biggest plays of the year when he broke through the Penn State line to block Gillikin’s punt. Dante Booker recovered the fumble and Ohio State had the ball at the Penn State 41-yard line.

This was a critical point in the game. It was the fourth quarter and Ohio State was down 35-20. A couple plays later, J.T. Barrett completed a touchdown pass to Johnnie Dixon and the Buckeyes were attacking from there.

When you’re in a rivalry game, especially one that has been intense as recently for these two teams, you need to make sure everything is in order. Sure you might have confidence in your offense or defense, but you need to make sure your special teams is good to go. If you know you’re gonna be in a close game, then you can’t make mistakes.

Punters can’t protect themselves, that’s why they need the upbacks to do their jobs. It’s not like a punter can wield a sword or anything. I’m not even sure that would have any kind of effect on a defender. Plus there is the whole penalty thing.

It’s tough to see a game like that turn on a blocked punt. What can you do, though? Obviously, Penn State will recover. They’re still a pretty good team and they’ll likely be ranked well when the first CFP rankings are released.

That’s one way to get a first down, I guess…(It really isn’t)

There was another Big Ten game that had an interesting punting moment, but this one didn’t have quite the hype as the Ohio State-Penn State game had.

I can only be talking about Purdue and Nebraska. In the second half of Saturday night’s game in West Lafayette, Boilermakers punter Joe Schopper faked a punt on fourth down and threw it down the field to Jared Sparks as the play was broken up by Nebraska’s DiCaprio Bootle. Unfortunately for Bootle, the officials flagged him for pass interference. You can check out the video here.

It led to a first down and an eventual touchdown for the Boilermakers as they were up 24-12 at that point.

Now you might think that this kind of play would work very well in Jane Coaston’s All-Pass Interference Offensive philosophy. In a perfect world, this would be the perfect play to add to your playbook. However, I regret to inform you that you’re wrong.

Some members of the Nebraska coaching staff, including Head Coach Mike Riley, weren’t happy about the call on the field. Both Riley and Defensive Coordinator Bob Diaco argued the defensive pass interference play shouldn’t have been called. And they’re right. It’s in the NCAA Rulebook. Check out Article 8 and go to the Penalties section for confirmation.

The reality is, this kind of penalty call isn’t even allowed in the NFL. How can the team playing against the punt expect a punter to throw it on fourth down? They don’t know a fake is coming. They’re focused on blocking to protect the punt returner.

It’s a nice thought to think that a fake punt pass interference call would be great. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the right call. Purdue shouldn’t have gotten the first down.

Luckily for the Huskers, they rallied back to win the game 25-24.

A couple fake punts that worked

Believe it or not, we had a couple of successful fake punts. However, they occurred during FCS games on Saturday.

The first punt took place when William & Mary took on Maine. W&M punter Will Michael took the snap and ran 12 yards on 4th down to pick up a first down.

It was indeed a nice play. Michael took full advantage of the opportunity and got as much out of it as possible. Unfortunately, Maine still won the game 23-6.

Meanwhile, the other fake punt play came when James Madison took on New Hampshire. Punter Harry O’Kelly moved to do his rugby-style punt but immediately took off down the sideline, going 30 yards for the first down.

Because of that run, O’Kelly was the second leading rusher IN THE GAME. We’re not gonna go out and suggest that all punters try to run the football more. But hey, if the fake run works, then it works. James Madison won the game 21-0. We’ll presume that O’Kelly played a vital role in getting that win.

Most Punts/Fewest Punts

For the most punts of week nine, that honor goes right to New Mexico State punter Peyton Theisler. He finished the game against Arkansas State with 12 punts, averaging 42.2 yards. Meanwhile, we did have a couple of punters with just one punt. However, in this instance, we’re going to one of the Academies.

Air Force punter Charlie Scott only needed to punt once in their win against Colorado State. The punt happened late in the game. Scott booted it 69-yards. The punt was downed at the Colorado State 16-yard line. I don’t really have much else to say about this. I’m just ending this section now before I get “NICE”-d to death.

Weekly Awards

As always, we wrap up this edition with the weekly awards.

The Third Phase Punter of the Week award goes to New Mexico’s Corey Bojorquez. He had a strong punting game for the second week in a row. Bojorquez, who was named Ray Guy Punter of the Week last week, had six punts against Wyoming on Saturday, averaging 53.7 yards. Three of Bojorquez’s punts landed inside the 20 and two were inside the Wyoming six-yard line. He also had a 75-yard punt in the game that went into the end zone for a touchback.

Meanwhile, the Ray Guy Award Punter of the Week honors go to South Alabama’s Corliss Waitman.

Waitman punted the ball five times against Georgia State, averaging 46.4 yards. He had at least three punts that went 50-yards and landed inside the 20. A fourth punt went only 36-yards, but still made its way inside the 20.

A job well done by both punters!