Tom Osborne spoke recently at Football 101 and underscored a recent Big Red Network piece about kicking.
He said, “Don’t forget about kicking. The first thing we always showed our players on Mondays was the kicking game. We placed tremendous emphasis on that.”
Osborne provided some compelling statistics about kicking.
“On that kickoff if you can average a return out to the 30-yard line as opposed to the 20 that 10 yards is huge. It almost doubles your chances of scoring if you start at the 30 as opposed to the 20.” He went on to say “if you can average 10 yards a punt return and hold your opponent to one or two yards on returns, that adds up to one or two touchdowns in the game.”
Assuming Osborne’s math is right it becomes pretty clear what a powerful advantage a kicker like Kunalic is that can force touchbacks. Looking at conference statistics, we see Oklahoma lead the conference in kick return yardage and kickoff coverage and won the league.
Kansas was second in kick returns and only lost a single game all year. Big 12 North champion Missouri finished fourth in kick returns. The Tigers also lead the North in fewest yards allowed per punt return (2.2 yards per return) and were second in punt returns (11.8).
In 2007, the Huskers did a fairly good job in punt coverage (allowing 2.8 yards per return, fourth best in the Big 12) and kickoff coverage (netting 44.4 yards per kick which was third best in the conference). The returns were less impressive.
The Huskers averaged 7.7 yards per punt return and 21.9 yards per kick return (eighth best in the conference in both categories). The return game was never all that great in the Callahan era. Osborne’s math suggests those statistics needs to change if the Huskers want to get back to where they want to be.