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Husky Football Blog

The latest news and analysis on the Montlake Dawgs.

September 8, 2009 at 2:27 PM

On those kickoffs

One of the few real points of contention I sensed from the UW fan base following the LSU game was Washington’s strategy on kickoffs.
As I noted in the prior entry, Steve Sarkisian said on the Pac-10 conference call today that the Huskies wanted to kick it away from LSU’s Trindon Holliday, the reigning 100-meter champ who has three returns for touchdowns in his career.
“We kicked away from him all night,” Sarkisian said. “That was the idea on kickoffs. And the punt game, we were really trying to pin them to the sidelines and I thought our punter did a great job with that as well.”
So now that we have him on the record saying that was indeed the strategy, I thought I’d break down what happened on those kickoffs.
On the first, Erik Folk kicked it to the 24 where Keiland Williams, not Holliday, caught it and returned it seven yards. That’s the drive that ended in a field goal to make it 7-3.
On the second kickoff, Folk kicked it to the 30 where Holliday got it and returned it six yards to the 36. That’s the drive that ended in a Charles Scott fumble at the UW 19.
On the third kickoff, to start the second half, Folk kicked it to the 36 where Chad Jones returned it five yards to the 39. That drive ended three-and-out and in a punt, the Huskies getting the ball at their own 37.
On the fourth kickoff, in the fourth quarter following a field goal that made it 24-16, Folk kicked it to the 28 where Holliday returned it five yards to the 33. That’s the drive that ended in the clinching touchdown.
So LSU’s average drive start on those four kicks was roughly the 35. LSU drove for scores twice, for a total of 10 points, and deep into UW territory another time before fumbling, along with one three-and-out.
With a new kicker and a new special teams, the Husky coaches obviously wanted to take the conservative route. And the execution was undeniable — LSU averaged just 5.8 yards per return.
But was giving up that field position worth the risk of Holliday getting a running start at a return and maybe breaking one for a TD? Obviously, Sarkisian thought so because he said today he thought it worked out just fine.
The only one you might really argue hurt UW was the last one, where LSU got pretty good field position after the Huskies had cut the lead to eight. Maybe pinning LSU inside the 20 or something would have continued the momentum shift toward UW a little. But LSU frankly moved the ball so easily on that drive — 67 yards in six plays and never as much as a third down — it’s hard to know if it would have mattered.
The stats indicate a definite overall yardage shift in LSU’s favor on kickoffs, however. UW’s average drive start on six kickoffs it received was the 19 (including one pushed back due to a penalty.
Overall, LSU averaged a net of 49.3 yards on its kickoffs while UW was 35.2, obviously a difference of about 14 yards per attempt.
UW’s average start point was impacted largely by the inability to get any long returns — UW averaged just 16.0 yards per return despite getting it deep every time.
But this is unlikely to be a discussion fans will have much this week as I would imagine the Huskies will just kick it away against Idaho and take their chances.
WSU CANCELS 2011 HAWAII GAME — Interesting news today that WSU has pulled out of a scheduled 2011 game to Hawaii What’s interesting about that from a UW standpoint is that the Cougars reportedly cited possible changes to the Pac-10 schedule as a reason. That’s a year the Apple Cup is slated to be played in Seattle but could be played at Qwest Field should UW be able to get funding for a renovation of Husky Stadium.

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