The Third Phase: Holy Toledo

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At long last, the college football season is here and with that also means this wonderful column about punting. Did you miss me? I missed all of you.

A short punt return

By now, you’ve probably seen this “punt return” for a touchdown on the internet. If you haven’t, then what are you doing on the internet?

This happened during Saturday’s Toledo home opener against VMI. What you’re watching is Toledo’s Cody Thompson grab the ball from VMI punter Reed King and take it three-yards into the end-zone for a touchdown. The Rockets won, 66-3.

You might be wondering, how is it possible to have a successful punt block for a touchdown like that? Well, it all starts with the blockers.

I can’t imagine it’s easy fighting through blockers to block a punt. Even if you get close, you know the punter is going to boot it in time. Unfortunately for King, there wasn’t enough time. Thompson broke through the line quickly. In fact, Thompson got their so fast, I’m not even sure King’s foot touched the ball.

This might as well have been Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown, assuming Charles Schulz was a punt enthusiast.

It’s too bad King had that happen to him, but hopefully, he got over it with all the punting he did Saturday. He had nine punts that averaged 43.6 yards with his longest going 65 yards. Only one punt landed inside the 20 for King, though.

By comparison, Bailey Flint had a solid punting day for Toledo. Of his six punts, four landed inside the 20. Flint’s longest punt went 54 yards.

Hopefully, Flint never has to deal with something like that. Thankfully, Toledo has a couple of weeks to prepare for Miami (and no, it’s not the one in Ohio).

A Public Service Announcement

It’s that time of the year again, folks! We have to warn you all about one of the serious side effects to “BEAMERBALL!” What am I talking about? Take a look at this disturbing footage.

It’s scary, I know!

It can happen to anyone at any time. In fact, it could even happen to you. Look to your left! Now look to your right! You’re all punters now, congratulations! But now you’re at risk of Beamer Ball.

Anybody could come after you and block a punt. It could be your mailman, your daughter’s third-grade teacher, your Mayor, even your next door neighbor. In fact, the person who blocks your punt could be living UNDER YOUR ROOF.

So be alert and vigilant! Don’t let Beamer Ball bring your punt game down.

(The preceding has been paid for by the People Who Like Punting)

A Nice Punt

Saturday’s showdown between Illinois and Kent State featured a pair of teams that each went 2-10 last season. Of course, the game was highlighted by fans booing when Illinois fell behind 17-3 at halftime.

While both teams struggled, there was some pretty good punting by the respective punters. Blake Hayes had a terrific game for the Illini. He finished with five punts, with three of them going 50 or more yards, including this 69-yarder downed at the Kent State four-yard-line.

*Wipes away tear* That is a beautiful punt. And that is why it’s important to flip field position. Hayes’ 69-yarder was one of two to land inside the 20.

On the flip side, Grant Urenovitch had five punts, with two going 50-yards or more. His longest went 58-yards. That punt was an important one because Kent State was pinned at their three-yard-line. It gave the defense a little breathing room and it paid off because Illinois would miss the field goal on the drive.

These two teams probably won’t light the world on fire this season, but hey, maybe they’ll have some more punting highlights.

Fake Punt Plays

I realize fake punt plays will always be a thing. What’s important to me is that the punters are safe. That was one case during Saturday’s UNLV-USC game.

Early in the second quarter, on fourth and one at the UNLV 34, Evan Austrie took the direct snap, while punter Hayes Hicken faked losing a high snap, and rushed for 36 yards, going out of bounds at the USC 30.

Whether or not USC bought the selling by Hicken, it didn’t matter. Austrie did what he needed to do and it led to a touchdown two plays later. So it worked out for everyone involved. Granted, USC ended up winning the game 43-21, but hey, maybe running that play can pay dividends for the Rebels later on.

Not all fake punt plays are going to be direct snaps to the upback. There will always be fake punt plays where punters have to get the first down.

Fortunately for Utah, they have someone like Mitch Wishnowsky to help them with that. Wishnowsky did it again Thursday night in the Utes home opener versus Weber State.

On 4th and 5 at midfield during the third quarter, Wishnowsky took the snap and ran 11 yards, going out of bounds at the Weber State 39, and extending the drive for the Utes. The momentum led to quarterback Tyler Huntley completed a 24-yard touchdown pass to Siaosi Mariner, just a couple plays later.

Interestingly enough, Wishnowsky’s 11-yard run made him the fifth-leading rusher in the game for Utah. With Wishnowsky having a history of running fake punt plays, it’s almost like he has the green light to do them whenever.

Well, that answers that!

Don’t worry, though! Wishnowsky still had a terrific game of punting. He had three punts, two of which landed inside the 20, including a 58-yarder.

We’ll likely hear more about this wonderful magician punter as the season progresses. And I think he’ll be a legit contender for the Ray Guy Award, once again. Don’t take my word for it, though. Just watch him work.

When Punting Leads to Points

Speaking of Pac-12 punters, let’s not forget about Stanford’s Jake Bailey. He’s a talented punter in a conference that has its fair share.

Bailey showed why he’s a serious Ray Guy contender during Friday night’s win in the home opener against San Diego State. In the second quarter, Bailey booted a 63-yard punt, which went out of bounds at the San Diego State one-yard line.

Because of Bailey’s boot, Stanford scored points thanks to a safety. As GoStanford Notes pointed out, it’s the second longest punt in Bailey’s career.

In total, Bailey punted the ball five times, averaging 48.8 yards. He had three punts land in the 20 (two inside the 10) and two go 50 or more yards.

It’s going to be a fun year of watching Pac-12 punting.

Weekly Awards

With all that said, the Third Phase Punter of the Week award for week 1 goes to Bailey. Something tells me this won’t be the only week he wins the award. I think he’ll have the opportunity to prove himself further.

Regardless, it’s nice to have college football back. And it’s also nice that we have all of this punting.