When the NCAA rule committee approved the proposal to move kickoffs up five yards in order to reduce the speed at which gunners get down the field so that the severity of collissions could be reduced, Florida State fans wondered if one of their top weapons would be taken away in the form of kicker Dustin Hopkins.
Hopkins routinely placed kickoffs into the end zone, something not many college kickers could do before the rule change. Post change, that doesn't seem all that special.
But the new rule also states that kickoffs (and kickoffs only) resulting in touchbacks will give the fielding team the ball at the 25 instead of the 20. This created an interesting question. How would Florida State football kick? Would they simply boom the ball through the end zone and give opponents the ball at the 25, or would the 'Noles try to sky the kick so that it landed right at the edge of the goal line, and use the five-yard closer starting point to their advantage. Could they?
Saturday night against Murray State, that's exactly what the 'Noles did. Dustin Hopkins kicked the ball high into the night sky, and Florida State's coverage team, which has not been this athletic since the dynasty days, ran under it repeatedly and stopped opposing offenses well short of the 25. The kicks were excellent, and are clearly something Hopkins began working on shortly after the rule change was announced.
Florida State kicked off 12 times on the night. Five went for touchbacks.
The other seven were stopped at MS 9, MS 15, MS 20, FSU 46 (though 15 yards of this was from a facemask), MS 21, MS 8 and MS 18.
By doing so, Florida State netted 34 yards of field position compared to what it would have yielded had it simply booted the ball through the end zone and given the Racers the ball at the 25 via the touchback. In other words, the average start for Murray State on those kickoffs was about the 20 yard line. That's a big difference.
The number is even higher if you remove the facemask penalty and focus solely on coverage, though that probably isn't fair given that penalties are an inherent risk with kickoffs that are not touchbacks.
Granted, it was against Murray State, and other teams will have better blocking, and better returners, but FSU definitely did a solid job of leveraging its athletic advantage on the coverage team.
And I'm sure against elite returners, say a Sammy Watkins in week four, that Fisher will likely smile knowing that his kicker still has the leg to kick the ball through the end zone and negate any chance of a return.