Ohio State Punt Frequency: A Study

By Michael Citro on April 26, 2013 at 11:30a

When the Buckeyes were left without a punting specialist in the wake of Johnny Townsend signing with Florida, many people (myself included) joked about how Ohio State wouldn’t be punting often anyway. Chad’s article on Wednesday about going for it on fourth down left me wondering how often Urban Meyer’s team needed its punter last year.

Looking back at 2012, what I found was surprising. Urban’s Buckeyes punted 62 times, for a 5.2 punts-per-game average. This seemed a bit high to me, so I dove a little deeper. Meyer’s teams at Florida never punted as many as 62 times in a season, and never averaged as many punts per game.

The closest the Gators under Meyer came to last year’s Ohio State total was in 2005, when Florida punted 61 times in 12 games, for a 5.1 per-game average. In the five years Meyer coached Florida (2005-10), his teams finished with punt totals (and averages) of: 61 (5.1), 53 (3.8), 37 (2.8), 45 (3.2), 34 (2.4), and 50 (3.8).

Clearly, Meyer’s teams typically don’t punt very often. The Gators averaged less than a punt per quarter in five of his six years in Gainesville, with an incredible 2.4 per game in 2009. Punting only once per half must have been cooler than seeing Genesis perform “Supper’s Ready” live back in the day.

The Buckeyes did manage to improve last year over Luke Fickell’s 2011 squad. Fickell’s year at the helm produced 72 punts in 13 games, an average of 5.5 punts per game. Those numbers exclude arm punts and blocked punts.

“So what,” you say. “Hasn’t Ohio State long been known for punting and playing defense? Isn’t Jim Tressel the man known for saying ‘the punt is the most important play in football?’”

Although the sweater vested one is indeed a punting proponent, a look back is a little surprising. You’d have to go all the way back to 2004 to find a Jim Tressel team that punted more often than last year’s Ohio State team under Meyer. That 2004 team punted 67 times in 12 games for an average of 5.6. In 2003, Tressel’s bunch punted a whopping 82 times — 6.3 per game.

That’s it. The rest of Tressel’s career at Ohio State featured fewer punts per game than Meyer’s 2012 team. Throwing out 2003 and 2004, Tressel’s teams punted 48 (4.4 per game), 60 (4.3), 43 (3.6), 49 (3.8), 54 (4.2), 60 (4.6), 62 (4.8), and 46 (3.5) times. The man known to be a punting aficionado led three different OSU teams that punted fewer than once per quarter.

Ohio State Punting Since 2001
Year total punts avg. per game coach
2012 62 5.2 Meyer
2011 72 5.5 Fickell
2010 46 3.5 Tressel
2009 62 4.8 Tressel
2008 60 4.6 Tressel
2007 54 4.2 Tressel
2006 49 3.8 Tressel
2005 43 3.6 Tressel
2004 67 5.6 Tressel
2003 82 6.3 Tressel
2002 60 4.3 Tressel
2001 48 4.4 Tressel
Totals 705 4.6 ---

The coach we associate with loving him some punting averaged 4.5 punts per game over his 10 years in Columbus — nearly a full punt per game less than Meyer’s squad from last season.

Ohio State's 5.2 punts-per-game average in all competitions was fifth in the B1G in 2012, ranking behind Michigan (3.5), Penn State (4.3), Nebraska (4.4), and Northwestern (4.9). Minnesota (5.3) and Purdue (5.4) were just behind the Buckeyes, who punted one less time per game than Michigan State. The Spartans were last in the B1G with 6.2 punts per game. In B1G games alone, Ohio State improved to third in the conference, trailing only Michigan (3.5) and Penn State (4.4). Indiana brought up the rear with 6.8 punts per game in league play.

A closer inspection shows some anomalies that helped lead to last year’s lofty total. Of the 62 punts launched last season, half of them (31) came in just four games — at Wisconsin, and home to Miami (OH), UAB, and California. The Buckeyes punted nine times in Madison, eight times against Cal, and seven times each against UAB and Miami.

Since three of those totals came in the first four games, it’s safe to assume that there were some growing pains in learning the offense. Certainly there were some execution problems, as well as some key dropped passes in those non-conference games.

In the opener against Miami, the Buckeyes punted on their first four possessions. You may recall that Ohio State trailed 3-0 after the first quarter. At home. Against Miami. You probably didn’t really start to get nervous before the Buckeyes got rolling, but you weren’t exactly thrilled at what you were seeing, either. My how things changed as the season wore on.

Urban Meyer Team Punting
Year School Total Punts Avg. Per Game
2012 OSU 62 5.2
2010 FL 50 3.8
2009 FL 34 2.4
2008 FL 45 3.2
2007 FL 37 2.8
2006 FL 53 3.8
2005 FL 61 5.1
Totals --- 342 3.7

Once Ohio State got into conference play, the offense moved much more smoothly overall. In the eight B1G games, Ohio State punted four times or fewer on five occasions, including only three each against Michigan and Illinois. There were five punts in the Purdue game, in which Braxton Miller was shelved for a good chunk of minutes due to injury. The Buckeyes punted six times in Happy Valley. The nine times at Wisconsin represented an outlier.

The Buckeyes averaged 4.8 punts per game in B1G play last year, which is a dramatic improvement on the 6.0 per game during the non-conference slate. The Wisconsin game was an aberration for both teams. The Badgers punted eight times in that November meeting, and Philly Brown housed the third of those for the game’s first score.

What can we expect moving forward?

I think we’ll see the numbers move closer to Urban Meyer’s Florida totals and averages, although we probably won’t see the 2.4 punts per game he had in 2009 or the 2.8 the Gators averaged in 2007. It might not even reach the 3.5 per game his Florida teams averaged over his six years in Gainesville. But I do think it will trend closer to four punts per game than the 5-plus that we’ve seen at Ohio State the last two years.

Tom Herman’s offense is in year two. The installation is much closer to completion now and only the freshmen will be learning it on the fly. In addition, the return of four starters on the offensive line should help. Braxton Miller’s continued development as both a passer and a runner will also contribute to fewer punts. Finally, more playmaking at wide receiver is another aspect that can reduce the need for the punt team to take the field.

But Drew Basil will have to be sharp no matter how many times he's called upon to boot the ball away, whether it's twice or nine times. Special teams plays can turn a game, and no one knows that better than Meyer. His teams have never lost a game in which they've blocked a punt.

The punt may be the most important play in football, but not having to do it due to offensive success is fine by me.


Comments Show All Comments

PierogyJim's picture

I'm not sure it is any indication of anything, but do you think maybe time of possession might effect the number of punts?
2012  62  5.2  Meyer   AVG TOP 30.07
2011  72  5.5  Fickell    30:40
2010  46  3.5  Tressel  32:10
2009  62  4.8  Tressel  31:30
2008  60  4.6  Tressel  31:19
2007  54  4.2  Tressel  31:44
2006  49  3.8  Tressel  30:47
2005  43  3.6  Tressel  30:12
2004  67  5.6  Tressel  28:32
2003  82  6.3  Tressel  30:24
2002  60  4.3  Tressel  31:42
One would think that the longer the avg TOP, the fewer punts a team would have. At first glance there doesn't really appear to be a correlation except maybe in 2010. 
Just thought I'd throw this wrinkle in there to see what you think.

Michael Citro's picture

An interesting thought, but I'd say that TOP probably isn't a factor, especially when you look at something like this:

2005  43  3.6  Tressel  30:12
2003  82  6.3  Tressel  30:24

Basically the same TOP and a big swing in punts per game. The misleading thing about TOP is that some teams score quickly and some teams go three-and-out a lot, giving each the same TOP but a wide gap in the number of times they punt.

dbit's picture

Interesting read, Michael.  I'd be interesting in exploring a correlation between punts per game and turnovers per game, since drives can only end three ways (score, punt, or turnover).  You could have Team A with 2.5 punts per game because they score on almost every drive and you could have Team B, also with 2.5 punts per game, but this time because they turn the ball over often.

Run_Fido_Run's picture

Ooops! You beat me to it. Sorry for being redundant below.

Run_Fido_Run's picture

Excellent analysis, Michael.
I am curious, though, if offensive turnovers might slightly skew the numbers. When an offense turns the ball over, obviously they didn't have to punt, but they also didn't have a successful offensive series.
Well, let's say they turn the ball over 8 - 12 times more than average on the season. That's maybe 5 - 9 times, or whatever, that they otherwise would have punted.
Last year, FWIW, Ohio State was pretty good about not turning the ball over.

hetuck's picture

Don't forget OSU played one fewer game also. 

Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.

Vince Lombardi

Michael Citro's picture

A disparity in games played is why I added the punts-per-game average for all the seasons above.

Michael Citro's picture

Yeah, the point here was to really talk about how often the punts came and not why. Obviously turnovers keep you from punting. But then, so does scoring a lot. The reason I didn't delve into causality is because, in my mind, the single biggest factor in determining a larger or smaller number of punts per game is third-down efficiency. That number is often determined by first- and second-down efficiency, establishing manageable third downs. It's a cause-and-effect smorgasbord. But it might well be worth going down that rabbit hole in future writings.

Earle's picture

I'd be interested in how the number of punts correlates to to final score margin.  My untested hypothesis is that closer games tend to have more punts, and my unsubstantiated conclusion is that punting is more important in tight games.  All of which is why I say that you really don't need a punter--until you do.

Snarkies gonna snark. 

Michael Citro's picture

Very small sample size, but the Wisconsin game (an OT affair) would support that hypothesis. A combined 17 punts in a one-TD, overtime game.

Todd-Not Boeckmann's picture

I never finished reading.  There is hope for you young whipper-snappers yet!

On the wall guarding the North Coast from all Weasel invasions.

yrro's picture

Did you compare possessions per game and/or plays per game? I feel like the tempo of the different offenses might explain this almost as much as their efficiency.

Borrowed Time's picture

that was my first thought - would be interesting to see those stats too

bigbadbuck's picture

With a year of experience under their belts my guess is the avg number of punts per game will decrease. I just don't see how defenses are supposed to stop an offense like this. The only exception would be if RT is still a problem spot as the season goes on

Gentlemen, you can't fight in here, its a war room

Bucksfan's picture

Wow, Tressel averaged an entire punt more per game than Meyer over their respective BCS careers.  In terms of % difference, that's actually fairly large considering, as you point out, the number of punts is generally low (3-6/game).  Nice breakdown of a very simple, yet important topic.
Winning is fun, of course.  But I like points and going for it on 4th down.  That's MORE fun.
Next, I'd like to see a Punts/Possession normalized to the number of points-per game breakdown.  This may demonstrate a much larger difference between Meyer and Tressel, considering the large discrepancy in the # of points scored between the two men, and their very different offensive philosophies.  Tressel may have punted once more per game, but if he only had 15 possessions per game, whereas Urban Meyer may have had 20 AND he scored more points, Urban's number is going to be WAY smaller than Tressel.

4thandinches's picture

What are your guys thoughts on this. Offensive tempo has a lot to do with it as well. I think we all thought that Tressel's teams would have a higher average punt ratio. But the reason why it is not higher is because of Tressel having a slower offensive tempo (ie holding onto the ball longer).  A three and out with Urban would not take as much time off the clock as would a three and out with Tressel. 

I wasn't born a Buckeye but I became one as fast as I could. 

Michael Citro's picture

I'm not sure the tempo has that big an effect, based on eyeballing games. The possessions didn't really speed up until the Buckeyes crossed midfield in most instances. The reason I included the chart of Meyer's BCS years is to account for his general offensive tendencies. His Florida teams often went up-tempo too.

Because I can't find any reliable data that includes number of possessions, I'm only speculating that there isn't a huge difference. I can track drive charts but I believe I'll have to go game report to game report manually to do that.

I may do a Part 2 to this article later, but the research will take some time to compile and it would still be imperfect data. You'd have decide whether to omit drives that end in kneel-downs and figure a way to account for punts that came in the second half of lopsided games when backups were playing and failing to sustain drives.

These are all fascinating questions and I appreciate the feedback. However, I was able to address my initial curiosity regarding how often Urban punted last season as compared to other Meyer teams, as well as previous OSU teams.

yrro's picture

Definitely some awesome info. You can tell it's good because we want more :)

MN Buckeye's picture

I am still concerned about our punting situation going into this year.  That is quite a bit of pressure for Basil to do all the kicking.  Too bad Epitropoulos has not been the answer.