Spaziani In-Game Management: Punting In Opponent Territory

Yesterday, we took at look at mgoblog's timeout clock management decision logic as compared to Spaz's actual in-game performance in 2011. Let's take a look at some other basic decision-making and strategy guidelines. Today, let's take a look at punting in opponent's territory.

Conventional wisdom is that punting in opponent territory isn't a great idea. The thought process goes "we'll pin them deep" but rarely does that work out. Here's why:

"There are two key problems with this assumption. The first is that 36% of punts from opponent territory result in a touchback or never reach the 20, and that's before any returns are factored in. The second is that it's pretty tough to actually down it close to the end zone, and unless you are at the 1 or 2, there is no special advantage.

[snip]

Another problem with an opponent territory punt is that it's tough to get an even exchange. Punting into the short side of the field limits the best case scenario and assuming you can force a punt from the opponent, gives them a lot of positive variance opportunity.

Now I'm not here to knock BC's punting this year. Quigley was easily the MVP of multiple games this year. But I do want to take a look at the coaching staff's decisions on when and where to punt. Spaz is notorious for conservative play-calling, which includes punting in opponent territory.

Boston College punted the ball 69 times this season. Of those 69 punts, a total of 18 were snapped from either midfield or in opponent territory. So more than one in every four punts BC took this year was taken in opponent territory. Yeesh.

The Eagles punted from as far in as the opponent's 38 yard line (in the Wake Forest game), and punted the ball a season-high four times in opponent territory in the Notre Dame game (from midfield, the Irish 49, 44 and 41). BC punted the ball from opponent territory more than once in the Miami (3), Virginia Tech (3), Maryland (2) and UMass (2) games. In the game at Virginia Tech, BC punted in Hokies territory on three consecutive offensive possessions -- from the Hokies 46, 40 and 39 -- all up just 7-3.

And of course, the most egregious example of conservative, waving-the-white-flag play-calling was Spaz's decision to punt the ball on 4th and 9, down 31 late in the fourth quarter against Florida State.

It's these types of conservative play-calling strategies that are going to make BC lose close games going forward. The Eagles go into next season without a veteran punter to give them good field position. The coaching staff will have to get a little more aggressive in the play-calling, including going for it on fourth down more often in opposing territory. The math simply is not in BC's favor punting in opponent territory.

After the jump, the complete list of offending punts.

When trailing ...

vs. Northwestern -- 4th and 10 from the NW 49, down 17-10
vs. Wake Forest -- 4th and 8 from the WAKE 38, down 10-3
at Clemson -- 4th and 10 from the CLEM 50, down 17-0
vs. Florida State -- 4th and 9 from the FSU 43, down 38-7
at Notre Dame -- 4th and 2 from the ND 50, down 10-0
at Notre Dame -- 4th and 10 from the ND 49, down 13-7
at Notre Dame -- 4th and 3 from the ND 41, down 13-7
at Notre Dame -- 4th and 5 from the ND 44, down 13-7
at Miami -- 4th and 11 from the MIA 48, down 14-10

When leading ...

vs. Massachusetts -- 4th and 16 from the MASS 39, up 24-7
vs. Massachusetts -- 4th and 15 from the MASS 39, up 24-7
at Virginia Tech -- 4th and 9 from the VT 46, up 7-3
at Virginia Tech -- 4th and 7 from the VT 40, up 7-3
at Virginia Tech -- 4th and 6 from the VT 39, up 7-3
at Maryland -- 4th and 6 from the MD 49, up 21-3
at Maryland -- 4th and 2 from the MD 45, up 21-3
at Miami -- 4th and 6 from the MIA 41, up 24-14
at Miami -- 4th and 10 from the MIA 47, up 24-14

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