Florida State Kickoff Returns: The Real Story

Kickoff return average tells you nothing about starting field position.  For instance, a kickoff return of 15 yards is quite bad.  But what if the ball was kicked to the 10?  That's a short, and probably high kick, giving the coverage team more time to get down to the closer returner.  But starting at the 25 isn't bad!  We need to focus on starting field position.  

I'll save that for another day, however, and instead look at FSU's kick returns.  FSU finished 88th nationally in kick returns.  Was FSU's kick return team only 88th-best?  Not a chance.  Kick return average does not adjust for opponent quality, so teams playing poor competition are not punished, while FSU is punished for playing a ridiculous schedule that featured 10 bowl teams.  Oh, and kickoff return average includes things such as a likebacker, assigned to the return team solely to block, returning a kickoff for 10 yards because the kickoff was very short.  The team gets great field position, yet the return team looks awful.

If you can't tell already, kickoff return is a dumb statistic.  But since many want to use it, I'll break it down by each game.

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Opponent Player Ret. Yards Avg.
Samford Vince Williams 1 10 10.0

Let's start with the game against Samford.  And really, there couldn't be a better example of this flawed statistic than this game.  FSU's ten-yard average was just awful.  But look who returned the kickoff!  A linebacker!  If the opposing team kicks the ball very short and FSU's linebacker returns it 10 yards, the 'Noles have great field position, but the kickoff return average is awful. 

Opponent Player Ret. Yards Avg.
@ Oklahoma Lamarcus Joyner 5 74 14.8
@ Oklahoma Greg Reid 3 36 12.0

This game was legitimately bad.  Oklahoma's kicker is very good and put the kickoffs high and deep.  Additionally, the return blocking was not very good, and Greg Reid (this is a disturbing trend) refuses to block when he doesn't get the ball.  That allows the kickoff team to play 10 tacklers v. 9 blockers, (advantage kickoff team).


Opponent Player Ret. Yards Avg.
Brigham Young Lonnie Pryor 1 3 3.0
Brigham Young Greg Reid 1 15 15.0

Here again we see FSU's average crushed because the statistic is flawed, as Lonnie Pryor, a non-kick returner fielded a very short kickoff and was obviously not able to gain many yards.  That is not to say FSU was great at returning in its only other shot at a return, but the average is much better in actuality than the 9-yard average listed overall for this game.


Opponent Player Ret. Yards Avg.
Wake Forest Lamarcus Joyner 1 22 22.0

Not bad here.



Opponent Player Ret. Yards Avg.
@ Virginia Bert Reed 1 12 12.0
@ Virginia Lamarcus Joyner 2 29 14.5

The kickoff return team was not very good against UVA.  I'll have to review the tape to see what happened, but given that we see Joyner not returning for a high average, I wonder if the other returner didn't block for him.  Joyner definitely blocks for the other guy when he is on the field.


Opponent Player Ret. Yards Avg.
@ Miami (Fla.) Greg Reid 4 145 36.3

That's stellar.



Opponent Player Ret. Yards Avg.
Boston College Lonnie Pryor 4 26 6.5
Boston College Greg Reid 2 47 23.5

Again, four short kickoffs to Lonnie Pryor that skew the average.  FSU still had excellent field position due to the short kick.  They also had a poor average because there was no room to return.



Opponent Player Ret. Yards Avg.
@ NC State Chris Thompson 2 33 16.5
@ NC State Greg Reid 3 51 17.0

This was not a good game of returns.  I'll have to review the tape to see what happened there.




Opponent Player Ret. Yards Avg.
North Carolina Greg Reid 7 193 27.6

That's a very nice average and almost 200 yards of kick returns.  But again, what do we know about the field position?  Nothing.



Opponent Player Ret. Yards Avg.
Clemson Greg Reid 4 82 20.5

Did Greg fumble one of these?  I'm trying to remember if he had one bad return, because I remember him having at least one pretty good return.



Opponent Player Ret. Yards Avg.
@ Maryland Lamarcus Joyner 2 48 24.0
@ Maryland Greg Reid 2 50 25.0

This was a great game of returns for FSU.  I was surprised Maryland didn't try to kick it short.




Opponent Player Ret. Yards Avg.
Florida Greg Reid 2 48 24.0

FSU definitely improved its returns later in the year.



Opponent Player Ret. Yards Avg.
Virginia Tech Lonnie Pryor 1 14 14.0
Virginia Tech Lamarcus Joyner 4 112 28.0
Virginia Tech Greg Reid 2 57 28.5

This was a great game of kickoff returns when VT had the guys to kick to him.




Opponent Player Ret. Yards Avg.
South Carolina Lamarcus Joyner 2 44 22.0
South Carolina Greg Reid 1 18 18.0

SC kicked it high and not super deep, meaning FSU had decent field position despite average return results.



And here is a breakdown showing FSU's improvement in this flawed stat as the season progressed.

Scenario Returns Yards Average
Total 57 1169 20.50877193
First 3 Games 11 138 12.54545455
Last 11 Games 46 1031 22.41304348
First 8 Games 30 503 16.76666667
Last 6 Games 27 666 24.66666667

Pretty obvious that FSU's KO return team is better than 88th in the country.  Think about this "if FSU's return team wasn't any good, why are teams avoiding kicking to them and instead kicking short?"

Further, we know that FSU was 20th in field position average, which included special teams and turnovers, and FSU didn't force many turnovers so a huge portion of that is special teams.

Now, you might say "But Bud, everyone faces short kickoffs and onside kicks."  True, but they don't all face them with the same frequency.  And that's what makes something like this so tough to evaluate by using an average.  Almost one of every 8 returns for FSU was done by a player fielding an onside kick or a pooch kick (7 returns for 53 total yards).  That's just too big a chunk of the whole to make average a reliable stat by which to evaluate kickoff returns.

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