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What happened to those punts?

October 29th, 2009

Whenever you watch a game involving Florida on TV, you will inevitably be informed that the Gators give up very few punt returns and punt return yards to their opponents. It’s with good reason, because Florida is usually among the best in the FBS in those categories. In 2007, Florida allowed only five punts to be returned for 22 yards in 13 games.

This season, Florida is again among the leaders, allowing only two punts to be returned and zero punt return yards in seven games.  The only team that has done as good or better in those categories this season is Florida Atlantic, which has allowed 2 punt returns for negative eight punt return yards in six games.

I began wondering — what happened to all the other punts by these teams that were not returned by the opponent? So here are the teams that have surrendered the fewest number of punt returns this season, broken down by how the punt ended.

                                   Fair                         Out of
 Team             Punts   Return   Catch   Touchback   Downed   Bounds   Other
+---------------+-------+--------+-------+-----------+--------+--------+-------
 Florida Atl.      25       2        9         3         4	  5        2
 Florida           18       2        5         2         5	  4        0
 Ohio State        34       3       20         1         8        2        0
 Hawai'i           21       3        5         1         4        5        3
 Notre Dame        27       3       16         2         4        1        1
 UCF               32       5       13         1         9        3        1
 LSU               30       5       15         1         5        4        0
 Nevada            26       5        9         3         5        3        1
 BYU               23       6        6         2         4        4        1
 Stanford          22       6        7         2         6        0        1
 Southern Miss.    30       6       10         2        10        2        0
 Central Mich.     31       6        8         3         9        5        0
 Auburn            41       6       17         4         8        6        0
 Miami (Fla.)      26       6        9         2         7        2        0
 South Fla.        29       6       14         2         6        1        0
 ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 Totals           415      70      163        31        94       47       10
                         16.9%    39.3%      7.5%     22.7%    11.3%     2.4%
 

For this group of teams, the plurality of the punts that are not returned ended in a fair catch, followed by the ball being downed, then by the ball being kicked out of bounds.  The “Other” column comprises those punts where the official scorer did not indicate what happened at the end of the punt, most likely that the ball was downed.

Florida’s punt return coverage numbers are helped because they have only had to punt 18 times this season, with 11.1% of the punts being returned.  Florida Atlantic and Ohio State are the leaders in the FBS in the lowest percentage of punts returned with 8% and 9% respectively.