The Third Phase: For A Few Punts More

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It’s that time again: Let’s talk about punting! The Third Phase is back fulfilling your craving for collegiate punting content. Here are the storylines we’re talking about this week.

Headed for a Showdown

Saturday night undoubtedly featured one of the best games of the season in Penn State versus Ohio State. We’re talking about probably two of the best teams in the Big Ten and among the top in the country. It had Trace McSorley running around on the football field and even Ohio State coming back from a double-digit deficit to win.

However, one aspect that is undoubtedly overlooked was the punting competition between two of the best in the Big Ten: Drue Chrisman of Ohio State and Blake Gillikin of Penn State. They’re both solid players for their team and will likely be strong Ray Guy Award contenders as the season progresses.

Both punters did their fair share of work Saturday night. Together, they combined for 17 punts. Chrisman punted the ball nine times, while Gillikin had eight. So who had the edge? The short answer is Chrisman.

If we’re going strictly off average yards, that would go to Chrisman, who averaged 47.9, whereas Gillikin averaged 39.

Of Chrisman’s nine punts, he had three that went inside the 20, as well as three that went for 50 or more yards. Chrisman’s best punt by far came halfway through the second quarter when he booted a 58-yard punt that was downed at the two.

He had a 53-yarder early in the second quarter that was fair caught at the Penn State 15. Four of Chrisman’s punts were not returned (three fair catch and one downed).

Meanwhile, for Gillikin, he had three punts that landed inside the 20. However, only one punt went 50 or more. He had a 53-yarder that was fair caught at the 10-yard line.

Gillikin’s average was hurt by the fact that Penn State opted to punt three times in Ohio State territory, including once inside the 40. The last punt for Gillikin came late in the fourth quarter at the Ohio State 42-yard line. He kicked it 38 yards, with it being downed at the two.

Of course, Ohio State marched down the field 96-yards to score the go-ahead touchdown. Now, this isn’t to suggest that Gillikin and the punting team were at fault for not pinning Ohio State deeper. Chrisman’s 58-yarder that I mentioned earlier also led to a touchdown drive. That would be the 93-yard touchdown pass from McSorley to KJ Hamler.

In Penn State’s defense, it was 4th and 10 (after they were called for delay of game) and Jake Pinegar had already missed a field goal from 46 yards out.

Every situation is different. No matter what, some teams are going to feel that it’s too risky to go for it in plus territory. So yeah, there are going to be teams that punt around the 40. I’m not going to knock it, but I will say this.

When you have a quarterback like McSorley and talented skill players around him, there will come a time when you need to be more aggressive to get the job done. You must take those risks, especially when you face a team like Ohio State.

Being passive and punting, no matter how deep you pin them, can only work for so long. It’s one thing if you’re pinning Central Michigan deep (sorry Chippewas).

But you’re playing a talented offense in Ohio State. Just because you’ve kept them in check for three quarters doesn’t mean that they can’t come alive in the fourth. You wouldn’t punt the ball to give it back to Alabama in that situation, right? Why would you do that to a rival then?

Penn State had its opportunity to end the game on their terms and not allow Ohio State an opportunity to take the lead late. Instead, they elected to punt. Maybe they wouldn’t have ended up in the 4th and 5 situation in the last couple of minutes. We’ll never know though, will we?

From Bad to…Not As Bad

It has been a rough year for Nebraska. They’re 0-4 under new head coach Scott Frost, and Saturday’s loss during Homecoming to Purdue hasn’t made life easier for the Huskers.

One player who had a notably awkward moment on Saturday was punter Caleb Lightbourn, who slipped and fell right as he punted the ball.

Despite slipping, Lightbourn kicked the ball far enough that it turned into a 29-yard punt downed at the Purdue 49-yard line.

As awkward of a moment as that was, Lightbourn still had a decent punt. Lightbourn still had some good punts during that game, including his longest, which was a 52-yarder.

Regardless, it’s hard not to interpret this as a metaphor for Nebraska’s season thus far.

Safety Dance at Harvard

Harvard punter Jon Sot probably would’ve liked to have had this punt back. During Friday’s game in Cambridge versus Rhode Island, Sot bobbled the punt snap in the end zone and as he kicked it, the ball bounced off another player (most likely one of the upbacks) and went backward for a safety. It’s a way to start a game. Harvard would lose the game 23-16.

Despite the miscue, Sot had a pretty good game of punting. He booted the ball seven times, including three that landed inside the 20. His longest punt went 52 yards.

A Lot of Punting

Believe it or not, we didn’t have any punter in FBS finish a game with 10 punts or more in a game. We already mentioned one player who had nine (Drue Chrisman), so let’s honor another.

Arizona (and grad transfer from Cal) Dylan Klumph punted the ball nine times on Saturday night against USC. Klumph averaged 38 yards per punt. Only one punt went 50 yards, which was his longest of the game. Three of Klumph’s punts landed inside the 20.

Awards

The Third Phase Punter of the Week honors go to Sterling Hofrichter of Syracuse. The redshirt junior has been outstanding this season for the Orange and he’s clearly another punter making his case for the Ray Guy Award.

Hofrichter was vital for Syracuse in their attempt to knock off Clemson for the second straight year.

He punted the ball seven times against Clemson, averaging 48.57 yards. Of those seven punts, four of them landed inside the 20 and three went 50 or more yards, including a 55-yarder that was the longest he’s had all season.

In five games, Hofrichter has punted the ball 23 times. He’s had 13 punts in total land inside the 20, eight go for 50 or more yards. Hofrichter has three touchbacks in total this season. Two of them came against Clemson on Saturday.

It’s looking like Syracuse will be a fun team to watch for the rest of the season. And Hofrichter is one of those guys that you’ll have to keep an eye on.

There isn’t a runner-up for Third Phase Punter of the Week. But that’s okay because the Ray Guy Award offers Punter of the Week honors. Just think of it like winning Best Director, instead of Best Picture (that’s a terrible analogy and I would like to apologize).

That said, the Ray Guy Punter of the Week is none other than Ohio State’s Drue Chrisman. We already went over his stats above. He’s a terrific choice.