This is Part III of an as-yet indeterminately lengthed series on things I am worried about with this upcoming season. Part I covered kickoff coverage. Part II covered teh ever-present threat of injury. Part III will discuss punting and punt coverage.
LSU was not a particularly strong punting team last year. Chris Jackson was asked to change to the rugby-style punt, and his average declined dramatically. Unfortunately, I was unable to find the actual stats, but I believe his punting average declined 5 yards. In addition, many believe (though Miles would probably disagree) that the punt protection in the "spread formation" was less than ideal as well. I couldn't find a good picture of "punt ugly" as it's come to be called, but I'm sure people know what I'm talking about.
It's the formation where all the linemen are split wide apart and three men line up fairly close together and parallel to the line of scrimmage behind the center. The advantage is, allegedly, that it frees up the snapper to break downfield in coverage while still protecting the punter from an up-the-middle rush. The problem is that it seems to frequently lead to punt blockers overloading one part of the highly spread-out protection formation and getting in to block the punt.
This is especially worrisome against a team like Virginia Tech who prides themselves on blocking punts and kicks. Virginia Tech regularly wreaks havoc on special teams whereas LSU takes the attitude that it's best to get young players involved in special teams to get them experience and playing time. This could be a particularly dangerous attitude against Virginia Tech, who may genuinely be the best team we play all season.
This is to say nothing of the rugby style of punting, which sacrifices punt length for coverage by punting the ball away from the return man and giving the coverage team a smaller part of the field to cover. It remains to be seen if it actually works.
Maybe the team, with one year of the spread punt formation under their belts, will actually execute it better. I sure hope we stop seeing a rash of "illegal formation" penalties on punts, which seriously hurt us against Auburn last year when we got two of them in one game. I had never even seen it called on a punt before that game, and we got it called on us TWICE. We were called for it at least one other time in the season, and I saw one or two other teams get that call during the season. To my mind, though, there is absolutely no reason to have an illegal formation on a punt. Everyone should know exactly where to line up, and no one should move once they get to that spot.
Anyway, the baby is starting to interfere with typing, so I'm going to cut this short.