According to multiple sources, the NCAA Oversight panel has elected to make a significant change to the way kickoffs are handled. Any kickoff that lands between the goalline and the 25-yard line can be fair caught and will be moved to the 25-yard line. In essence, the endzone now becomes a 35-yard area instead of the 10-yard area it currently occupies. For kickoffs only.
Kickoffs have long been tinkered with in the game of football. At first there was the wedge, which receiving teams used to create a shield for returners. In order to prevent touchdowns, teams had to employ wedge busters, which forced players to run downfield and hurl their heads and bodies into other human beings. Guess where a large portion of concussions came from.
Then kickoffs were forward from the 30 to the 35, increasing the likelihood of touchbacks. Some coaches have opted to just kick the ball as far as they can on kickoffs and not worry about the consequences. You can’t give up a touchdown if the ball goes out of the endzone.
Other coaches have chosen a different technique. Now, more and more coaches are instructing their kickers to use a “pop-kick” technique where they kick the ball short of the goalline, forcing the returning team to advance the ball. Since the kicker is closer to the endzone already, he has to put a lot of air under the ball, which gives the kicking team more time to cover the kickoff.
This new rule gives the return team the option to faircatch the ball at the 4 and still start the drive at the 25-yard line. Good news for brain health, but it could be bad for Dana Holgorsen.
The Mountaineers have struggled to replace Tavon Austin. Austin was as dynamic a playmaker as I’ve ever seen. With the ball in his hands and green grass in front of him, Austin had elite quickness, speed and field vision. Austin could see holes forming before they formed and knew how to set up blocks to make holes form. He knew how to draw in blockers and make them over-pursue.
For the past several years, the Mountaineers have struggled with kickoffs. Mario Alford gave us something to cheer about in 2014 but outside of him, West Virginia just hasn’t been stable on kickoffs. Until last year, when sophomore Marcus Simms was inserted on kickoffs.
Simms returned 31 kickoffs last year, gaining 816 yards on those returns. That averages out to over 26 yards per return. Good news for a team that struggled with starting field position at times. Even if you take out the 80 yard return for Simms, he still averaged well over 24 yards per return meaning it makes sense for him to return something from the two-yard line. Now with this new rule change, it might make less sense and the Mountaineers could just start every drive at the 25.