In the opening week of this college football season, there were 32 FBS games that were decided by two scores (16 points) or fewer. In those games, there were 330 punts.
Here are all of those punts.
The footprints of a drunken centipede. The tiny beams of light, tumbleweeding through the cosmos, orphaned by a galaxy that ate itself in a fit of boredom eons ago. A shutoff notice from the electric company, in Braille. Hieronymus Bosch's Lite Brite. These metaphors do not express the malaise I feel on account of each and every one of these little white dots. Punts are terrible.
Even if the punt itself is not a bad idea -- and in the majority of cases, it is not -- it's nothing more than the bloom at the end of a rose bush, a signifier of prior terrible ideas. It might be traced back to the decision to run on third and eight, the decision to start a freshman quarterback, the decision to install your goofus athletic director, or the decision to invent a new sport with Princeton. If a punt is not evil, it heralds it, and therefore, every punt is bad.
Some punts, by virtue of their actors' hand-waving and sheepishly hiding far behind the line of scrimmage, appear almost to apologize for themselves. We can say of these punts that at the very least, they are operating on the right side of logic. Giving the ball away is by no means brave, but it is in the service of eventually winning the game. The punts we're about to visit, though, fall on the wrong side of both bravery and logic.
If you won't be brave, at least be rational. If you won't be rational, at least be brave. Sometimes, a football team is neither, and carries itself like a gaggle of stupid cowards.
I have settled on three cardinal evils of punting. These are not mere sins. They are a swift kick to the outstretched hand of God.
Before we proceed, please remember that I filtered out all one-sided contests. All these punts we're about to behold were committed in winnable games.
I. PUNTING WHILE OUTSIDE OF YOUR OWN TERRITORY.
I need you to understand how often this happens.
This last weekend, one in five punts -- 20.9 percent -- were called outside of the punting team's territory. I was astounded. Perhaps I shouldn't have been so naive; perhaps I should have watched four trillion hours of football in my life instead of two trillion.
Granted, if we review the autopsy reports of these drives, we can understand why some of them were called. Fordham, while leading, punted on fourth-and-27 from their opponent's 40-yard line. I get that, I really do. But as I argued earlier, even if the punt itself is prudent, the unspeakable terrors that dragged them to that point render the entire operation unholy.
Others defy comprehension. We will get to those.
II. TURNING DOWN A HIGH-PROBABILITY OPPORTUNITY TO CONVERT.
These five teams had great field position. All of them had a yards-per-play average that game high enough to indicate a somewhat-functioning offense. All of them faced fourth-and-very-short. All of them punted.
Those yards-per-play averages aren't all that impressive, but they were still two, or four, or five times as great as the yardage these teams needed. And of course, a fourth down situation changes all sorts of variables. The defense you go up against will look different from how it did the first three downs. Clearly, though, your offense is demonstrating that it's fully capable of picking up a yard or two.
If the odds, which are in your favor, work out your way, your struggling offense has a first down in your opponent's territory. That's a godsend. And if they're not in your favor ... hell, your opponent has the ball in their own territory, which they would have anyway if you'd have punted. You're probably not missing out on a ton in the way of field position, either.
Here's what happened with those 69 punts that came at or past the 50-yard line.
The average net punt here was about 30 yards. That's a full 10 yards short of the average of all punts booted from home territory. The field's shorter and the risk of a touchback is high, and those are two very good reasons to somewhat devalue punting from this range. Look at all those touchbacks! From this territory, a team's odds of giving their opponent the ball on the 20 -- or worse -- was roughly 50/50.
In short, these teams had a choice between:
a) a low-risk, high-reward proposition with favorable odds, and
b) a lower-risk, low-reward proposition with odds that are whatever who cares punting's dumb
The choice seems clear to me.
III. PUNTING IN THE FOURTH QUARTER WHEN YOU'RE NOT WINNING.
The punts I'm about to show you are the worst of the worst. They are commissions of all three of the cardinal evils of punting. All three of these teams fulfill the following criteria:
1. These teams punted from their opponents' territory.
2. These teams passed up first down opportunities that were entirely makeable.
3. These teams were losing or tied in the fourth quarter.
[CORRECTION: Central Florida played Florida International, not Florida Atlantic. Thanks to commenter Kaline666 for catching it.]
These decisions were made by people with far more coaching experience than I have. There are things, both about the sport of football at large and the specifics of this scenario, that they know and I do not.
I also know that, either by its own virtue or the virtue of the unclean circumstances that brought it here, that every one of these punts is an abomination. They exhibit a complete lack of confidence in an offense that has shown many times, throughout that very game, that they were capable of picking up five or six yards. They insinuate a spiritual plane of chicken-shittedness I am fortunate enough to only experience when hundreds of thousands aren't watching. They suggest the indifference shared by the windblown cliff faces of the desert, happily suffering all their erosions until there is nothing left to shape.
All these punts occurred within the space of one week. How many more weeks are left in this season? Like five? God help us.
ADDENDUM: UTAH STATE AND SOUTHERN UTAH, POETS OF THE OCCULT.
Along the course of unearthing these horrors, I came across a game I probably wouldn't have heard about otherwise. Utah State and Southern Utah played out such a macabre spectacle that, after looking at the box score, I was certain there was some sort of inclement weather that justified it.
No, not really. There was a little bit of wind, but that's it. No precipitation, earthquakes, or locusts. The invisible demons of punting, it turns out, can walk among us in broad daylight.
Behold, and then hug someone you love.
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SB Nation presents: The case for going for it on 4th down in the NFL