The Third Phase: Punters, Play It Safe (Don’t Be Like Liberty)

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Folks, it’s time for another edition of the Third Phase: The internet’s only weekly column dedicated entirely to punts and punt-related content. We have much to discuss, let’s kick it off (pun ABSOLUTELY intended). 

Be careful out here

The biggest punt-related football story to come out of Week 2 involved recent FBS newcomer (most likely soon to be former Nike apparel wearer and all-around problematic school) Liberty University.

In Saturday’s road game against Army, redshirt freshman Aidan Alves not only booted a punt, but he went in to attempt a tackle.

The only problem for Alves was he led with his head. Yes, Alves and Liberty were penalized for targeting. And this wasn’t garden-variety targeting. 

Take a look for yourself!

Yes, this looks bad! It’s not a good idea to put yourself nor your opponent in harm’s way like that. Yes, punters are sometimes criticized for lacking aggressiveness — and no one can dispute this was, uh aggressive — but it came at a cost. Alves got ejected from the game. Aaron Peart punted the remainder of the game for Liberty.

This should go without saying, but please don’t do that. No punter…or really any player, should be leading with the head on tackle attempts, especially if it results in colliding with another player’s head.

There are far better writers out there who have written better content about the connection of concussions and football. I’m not sure I’ll add anything new. However, I do have a thought about this.

How about no?

A Quick Replacement

The Michigan State Spartans found themselves in a difficult position late Saturday night in Tempe, Arizona. Their starting punter, Jake Hartbarger, went down injured on a dead ball false start penalty call (I’m not sure why there wasn’t a second flag for running into the punter on a dead ball play, but hey THAT’S NONE OF MY BUSINESS).

Because it was still fourth down, Michigan State needed another punter out there. The only thing is, they didn’t bring the backup punter. So what did the Spartans do? They turned to backup quarterback Rocky Lombardi.

Now, I don’t know how the process works when trying to decide who dresses and joins the team for a road game and who doesn’t. I realize Hartbarger is a solid and reliable punter.

Prepare how you want to for any road game. Michigan State will do what they want. A punter isn’t a toothbrush, though. You can’t go to any shop at the airport and buy a punter along with a coffee and a copy of TIME magazine.

There’s no “Uber, But For Punters” in Arizona or anywhere in the continental United States. So maybe you should have a backup on hand in case of an emergency.

Now, I’m not saying a backup punter would’ve helped Michigan State defeat Arizona State. Lombardi got off a decent punt. It wasn’t a coffin corner, but the defense could’ve managed it. I say could’ve because…well…that was the game-winning drive for Arizona State.

Anyway, the moral of this story is to always have backup specialists on hand. You never know when an emergency will pop up.

If you need me, I’ll be in Silicon Valley trying to pitch this Punter as a Service platform. I expect this to work out well.

What Went Wrong?

Some things didn’t go well for punters on Saturday. We saw a blocker get pushed into his punter for a blocked punt during the Miami-Savannah State game (I’ll let you guess who got blocked).

https://twitter.com/ConferenceUSA/status/1038601312286302208

Meanwhile, this happened during the Middle Tennessee State/UT-Martin game and I’m still not exactly sure what happened. It seems like a rugby kick that went wrong. Either way, everything fell apart for UT-Martin on that play.

If that’s not enough, we also had a punt block in the Tennessee/East Tennessee State game. It didn’t go well for East Tennessee State and the touchdown was part of a 59-3 blowout loss to the Volunteers.

These plays should all be lessons to show that punting is NEVER that simple. It only looks that way because you’re conditioned to expect that. You expect the long snapper to snap it perfectly to the punter, who in return boots it about 45-50 yards into opponent territory. A lot can go wrong in a hurry.

A Lot of Punting

Sometimes it helps to make some changes instead of showcasing most punts or least punts or whatever I did last year. That’s why I will introduce a punter who punted a lot in a game (ideally this would be a double-digit punt total).

This week, we give you Kyle Kramer of Miami (OH).

In Saturday’s game versus Cincinnati, Kramer punted the ball 10 times. He had four punts land inside the 20 and two go 50 or more yards, including a 56-yarder. Miami would lose the game 21-0.

Kramer wasn’t the only player with a double-digit punt total for the week. South Alabama’s Corliss Waitman had 10 punts, while Bryce Crawford of San Jose State had 11.

Awards

Our Third Phase Punter of the Week award goes to Michigan State’s Jake Hartbarger. He might have left the game early, but still had a solid impact in the punting game.

We mentioned the 74-yarder he had earlier. It was one of his two punts that not only went more than 50 yards, but also landed inside the 20.

Meanwhile, Mason King of Louisville has been announced as the Punter of the Week by the Ray Guy Award committee. King punted the ball six times averaging 46.5 yards in last Saturday’s win over Indiana State. He had three punts land inside the 20 and two go 50 or more yards, including a 64-yarder.

Mitch Wishnowsky of Utah won the Ray Guy Punter of the Week honors for week 1.