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Play of the Week: A Buckeye Blocks a Punt

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Northwestern badly botched their punt protection against OSU

Jonathan Daniel

Northwestern played a good game on Saturday, but a few big mistakes handed OSU the game. One came on a late interception, when Trevor Siemian forced the ball to a well-covered out route. The first major mistake, however, came on a punt in the first quarter

With Northwestern leading 7-3, Ohio State had pinned the Cats inside their own 1 yard line with a punt. A conservative three plays (run, run, Colter scramble) later, NU faces fourth down. OSU puts 8 players in position to rush Brandon Williams, one more than Northwestern's 7 blockers can handle.

Vsosupuntblockpresnap_medium

At the snap, however, one of the OSU rushers backs off to set up the return; the situation is now 7-on-7, and Williams should be able to get off the punt.

Vsosupuntblockrush_medium

OSU is attempting to overload the right side of the protection, but the three rear protectors should be able to adjust to the rush.

Vsosupuntblockshield_medium

Two things go badly wrong at this point. First, long snapper Pat Hickey is bowled over without even slowing down his man; This gives OSU a 4-on-3 against the second line. Second, C.J. Robbins and Max Chapman double team the leftmost OSU rusher. This leaves Tyler Scott all alone against three rushers.

Vsosupuntblock3on1_medium

Scott picks off one of the rushers, but the other two have no problem getting to Williams before the ball leaves his foot.

Vsosupuntblockblock_medium

The punt has no chance, and Williams has no chance of holding OSU to a safety by jumping on the ball.

There were three main failures on this play.

1. NU should have brought another blocker in tight presnap to even the numbers; even though the eighth man bailed, this might have allowed NU to better slow the initial surge.

2. Hickey must do better on his block. Long snappers have a tough job, as they must accurately throw the ball 15 yards backwards and immediately be ready to stop a rusher; this isn't an excuse for getting blown up, though.

3. The second line must adjust to the rush. OSU overloaded a side of the formation, but having 3 players back should let the blockers see the rush develop and react. Instead, NU ended up with a double team and two unblocked rushers.

Ohio State used a nice rush scheme on this play, and their ability to put elite athletes on the punt block team helped them overwhelm NU's long snapper. Still, it was primarily a breakdown by Nortwestern's punt team. I expect that Pat Fitzgerald has gone over this play many times, trying to figure out whether NU has better options when faced with an opponent looking for a punt block. I don't think radical changes are in order (NU hasn't had a punt blocked since 2008, if I am reading cfbstats.com correctly), but you can bet that special teams coordinators around the conference are licking their chops at the thought of repeating Ohio State's success.

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