As we mentioned in our post this morning, a lot has been made of the kickoff woes of the Aggie football team this week. One member of the media went as far as to say "Of course people will point to Young's miss, but what about the kickoffs? How can you give Nevada that type of field position? The Wolf Pack consistently got the ball at midfield. That has absolutely killed the Aggies this year."
We'll address this first, the Wolfpack's average starting position was the 33.5 yard line... now we're no math majors but we're pretty sure that's about 26.5 yards away from midfield. The Nevada starting field position off of kickoffs looks like this... UNR 31, UNR 19, UNR 40, UNR 39, UNR 47, UNR 35, UNR 24. The Pack got the ball "near" midfield once at their own 47. Yes they scored a touchdown. However, the next two closest starts to midfield? Their 40, which resulted in a fumble, and their 39 which resulted in a punt.
We promised to share the results of our research this afternoon so without further ado, here is what we found... Note that all statistics were taken from the box scores found on the NMStateSports.com website and we used the outstanding resource, cfbstats.com for some of the other data we used.
Keep in mind that Ryan Jastram has handled the majority, if not all of the kickoff duties and for the most part has been squibbing kicks more often than kicking them deep.
The Aggies have played ten games so far this season, winning four, losing six. The kicking game has pretty much only come into question for the games that the Aggies have lost. Which in itself, isn't all that surprising since there are always people are generally more willing to find fault when things aren't going well. That being said, is the Aggie kickoffs and the resulting field position that the opposing team has had really been a factor this season? Coach Mumme has been quick to point out that the change in rules that moved the kickoff back to the 30 yard line from the 35 yard line has caused a major change in kickoff philosophy.
The Aggies have kicked the ball off 53 times. These kickoffs include the opening kick of the game, the opening kick of the second half or a kickoff after a score (touchdown or field goal). We went back and looked through this seasons statistics and found that the average starting position for an Aggie opponent after a kickoff was the 36.6 yard line. Now, with the help of the outstanding site cfbstats.com, we discovered that the Aggies actually have the 3rd best kickoff coverage in the Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Div I-A) at 17.39 yards per kickoff return. You read that right, third... in the nation. Great, so what does that mean?
Digging a little deeper, we looked at the statistics from each game to determine how often the Aggies' opponents were scoring off of an Aggie kickoff.
Starting with the first game of the season against Southeastern Louisiana, the Aggies kicked the ball off six times with Southeastern Louisiana gaining an average field position of their own 32.3 yard line. Of those six kickoffs, SELA was forced to punt five times and ended the first half on the other kickoff.
Against New Mexico, the Aggies kicked off six times. New Mexico started at an average of their own 34.6 yard line. The Lobos scored four touchdowns, one field goal and punted once.
Against UTEP, NMSU kicked off seven times. UTEP started with an average field position of their own 36.3 yard line. The Miners scored one touchdown, one field goal, were forced to punt three times, were interecepted once and turned the ball over on downs once.
Against Auburn the Aggies kicked off four times. Auburn started with an average field position of their own 37.5 yard line. They scored two touchdowns, punted once and fumbled once.
In their next game against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, the Aggies kicked the ball off five times. Pine Bluff started with an average field position of their own 30.2 yard line. Pine Bluff went on to score two touchdowns, one field goal, were forced to punt once and then the final kickoff ended the game.
The Boise State game throws a bit of a curve to the statistics because NMSU only kicked off once in the game. Boise State started on their 34 yard line and scored a touchdown.
The following week against Louisiana Tech, NMSU kicked off four times and Louisiana Tech started with an average field position of their own 40.5 yard line. They would score one field goal, punt twice and turn the ball over on downs once.
The Homecoming game against Idaho was another game that is a crazy statistical game. Idaho received nine kickoffs from the Aggies. They started with an average field position of midfield thanks to two very long returns into Aggie territory. They would score two touchdowns and one field goal, miss one field goal, fumble twice, were intercepted twice and turned the ball over on downs once.
In the game at Hawai'i, NMSU kicked the ball off four times with Hawaii's average starting field position the 37.3 yard line. Hawai'i would score one touchdown, be intercepted once and one kickoff resulted in the end of the 1st half.
Now, against Nevada, the game that has caused all of this to surface, Nevada received seven kickoffs. Their average starting field position off of kickoffs was the 33.5 yard line. They scored four touchdowns, had one fumble, one punt and one kickoff resulted in the end of the half. Nevada is second in the WAC in kickoff return defense at 19.67 yards per return. The Aggies' average starting field position was the 24.9 yard line. That means that NMSU's Ryan Jastram was kicking off to roughly the 16 yard line while Nevada's kicker was kicking off to about the 5 yard line with a difference in field position of roughly 14 yards.
Now if you're still awake after reading all of that, let's look at the overall numbers. Through 10 games the average starting field position for the Aggies' opponents is the 36.6 yard line. Of those 53 kickoffs, the Aggies have allowed 18 touchdowns and five field goals. However, the Aggie defense has forced 14 punts and 12 turnovers (interceptions, fumbles, missed field goals and turnover on downs) and four times has the drive after the kickoff resulted in the end of the half or the game.
This means that the Aggie defense is holding 57% of the time.
On the flip side, the Aggie offense is only scoring 33% of the time they when they receive a kickoff, having scored 16 touchdowns and six field goals after receiving 66 kickoffs.
Interestingly enough, in games that the Aggies have lost they've kicked off 26 times and they're only giving up an average of 14.16 yards per return on kickoffs while the opponents' average starting field position is the 36.2 yard line. They've given up 13 touchdowns and two field goals in those games. The defense has gotten the ball back 11 times. The opposing team is scoring 57% of the time when they receive the ball after an Aggie kickoff. On the flip side of that, the Aggie offense in those losses has received a kickoff 51 times with their average starting position being the 27.6 yard line., scored 10 touchdowns and four field goals. That means that 37 times the Aggies have received kickoffs and given the ball back to the opponent.
In the losses the average starting field position for the Aggies versus their opponents was a roughly 8 and a half yard difference in favor of the opposing team. Now before you go and say I told you so, consider that in the four Aggie wins, the average starting field position for the Aggies' opponents was actually greater than in the games which they lost, at the 37.2 yard line. The Aggies' starting field position in those wins? The 26.4 yard line. That's a difference of almost eleven yards. In those four wins, the Aggie opponents received 27 kickoffs, score five touchdowns and three field goals. The Aggie defense got the ball back to the offense 17 times and after two of the kickoffs the ensuing drive resulted in the end of the half or the game. The Aggie offense received 15 kickoffs and scored six touchdowns and one field goal. That's nearly 50% scoring off of kickoffs versus the 27% of the time they scored in their losses.
You may draw your own conclusions here but we believe that it's pretty clear that the reason the Aggies have lost these games is not because of field position off of kickoffs as is the popular argument this week.