Baylor went deep into the rulebook to try a trick play on a kickoff against Oklahoma. I want to call it "innovative," but considering the tactic the Bears exploited is literally older than football, "innovative" just doesn't seem like the right word.
Here's what happened. Due to an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on an Baylor extra point -- and boy, it sure was a good unsportsmanlike conduct penalty -- the Bears were able to kick off from the 50-yard line. In these situations, teams often go with onside kicks, considering they don't risk to lose much in terms of field position. Baylor did something different, and Redditors noticed it.
Baylor's kicker, Spencer Evans, holds up his hand in a stop sign to his coverage team, signaling he's about to inspect the ball as if something is wrong.
He runs up to the ball and takes a peek at it:
And then, all of a sudden, he appears to punt it:
A few weeks ago, Colorado attempted to punt on a kickoff. The ball had been moved back via penalty to the 20-yard line, and the Buffaloes were presumably trying to cut down on a potential return with a high-arcing punt. But before they could try, the refs stopped them from even attempting it. Why did the refs stop them then, but not here?
What Baylor did is legal by a rulebook quirk most have forgotten about for decades. The rulebook specifies you can punt on a free kick after a safety:
A free kick after a safety may be a punt, drop kick or place kick.
But "punt" isn't one of the things you can do on a normal kickoff.
A kickoff is a free kick that starts each half and follows each try or field goal (Exception: In extra periods) It must be a place kick or a drop kick.
And Evans doesn't actually punt here.
Evans drops the ball and hits it on a hop.
It looks like Baylor got this play from Minnesota, who ran it a week before against Ohio State with some shifting to throw the defense off.
Minnesota's onside kick was something, just glad the clock wasn't running this time pic.twitter.com/erWEe5SY1c— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) November 8, 2015
They ran it again Saturday night against Iowa, too.
Once upon a time, this was a common way of kicking a football. Football developed from rugby, which plays with a rounder ball that's easier to bounce. The drop kick is still mandatory in both major codes of rugby football, but since the American football's shape was made pointier in 1934 to enable easier passing, the drop kick has fallen out of the game.
Kicking requires precision, and the ball's shape is such that its bounce is unpredictable. You can generate more power by running up to the ball on a place kick. A hold or tee allows kickers to get under the ball, giving it more air time.
The drop kick remains on the rulebooks as football's appendix. It was already in the rulebook, and nothing about the evolution of the game made anybody want to eliminate it. A few guys have scored via drop kick as a ceremonial thing. Doug Flutie did it in the meaningless fourth quarter of his last game, and a DIII player did it in 1998. But for the most part, it's just there, with no reason anybody would want to use it.
Or so we thought.This might be only possible tactical advantage the drop kick might have.
Attempting to catch opponents off-guard on a kickoff is a legitimate strategy, but if they're already expecting an onside, this is about the only way to still trick them. At least one Sooner was fooled, head turned to the side, gesturing to a teammate as Evans prepared to kick.
Unfortunately for Baylor, Evans was kicking to the other side. And the kick wasn't a very good one, with little hangtime and directly to one of the Oklahoma upbacks, who fair caught it.
The play didn't work, but it didn't really hurt the Bears. Because they were kicking from the 50. (The Sooners scored on the drive with 28 seconds to spare in the half, but they scored a lot anyway.)
The nature of the football makes this kick difficult to pull off. It's too hard to hit a ball consistently off a bounce. But if the ball is already moved up due to a penalty, the opponent is going to be on guard for an onside kick. The drop kick might actually be a nifty way to catch opponents napping.
More college football for you
* * *
SB Nation presents: Oklahoma and Oregon highlight upset-filled Week 11