Special teams math seems like it should be easy, yet mistakes continue to abound. Chuck Zodda examines all the angles of special teams, including how even a point after attempt can be botched.
The 2013 Iron Bowl was famous for two things: Chris Davis returning a missed Alabama field goal 100 yards as time expired to win the game for Auburn, and Alabama kickers missing all four field goal attempts. Cade Foster and Adam Griffith combined to go 0 for the day as the Crimson Tide lost 34-28 to the Tigers. Terrifying dreams of faceless Auburn linemen blocking kicks, with attempted kicks evading the goalposts, likely haunted the nightmares of Foster and Griffith for the next several months.
This year, Griffith has handled the kicking duties almost exclusively for the Tide with mixed results. The sophomore is 12-for-18 on field goals for the year and had made 40 of 41 extra points heading into Saturday’s game. However, a back injury forced Griffith out of their Week 13 matchup against Western Carolina, pushing Nick Saban to look for other options. Freshman backup Gunnar Raborn filled in for Griffith, making his debut by hitting 2-of-3 on field goals and all six extra points in Alabama’s win. After this performance, Saban decided to ride the hot hand, allowing Raborn to continue with placekicking duties at the start of the Iron Bowl. Unfortunately for Raborn, the ghosts of 2013 awoke in the middle of the third quarter.
The Crimson Tide had just finished an eight play, 75-yard drive to pull within six points of the Tigers. Raborn trotted onto the field to kick a routine extra point:
With the ball placed at the 3-yard line, Alabama lined up in a standard PAT formation. Raborn nodded to his holder signaling his readiness, and the ball was snapped:
Indicated by the red arrow, the snap is right on the money and placed properly by the holder, freshman backup QB Cooper Bateman. The Alabama line forms a solid wall of protection, with no leakage immediately visible. A number of Auburn players on the right side of the frame choose not to rush and there is almost no edge pressure. The interior of the line does have some give, as Arie Kouandjio is forced back nearly two yards by Tiger defenders.
However, despite the strong protection Alabama cannot escape unscathed:
Raborn gets the kick off cleanly, but it comes out at a low trajectory. It hits the outstretched hand of Auburn defender Angelo Blackson as he descends from his leap at about the 5-yard line. The film suggests that the impact likely occurs at a height of around 8 feet. And this means it’s time to pull out our calculators.
Extra points and field goals are taken from a distance of seven yards (21 feet) from the line of scrimmage. However, due to pressure, Blackson’s hand is only five yards from the spot the ball is kicked. Looking at the kick’s trajectory as the hypotenuse of a right triangle, we estimate that the ball came off Raborn’s foot at an angle of 27 degrees at the moment of impact. While the mechanics of a field goal differ slightly from a kickoff, there is a valuable study showing that the ideal launch angle for a kick to maximize distance and height is between 42 and 49 degrees.
Unfortunately for Raborn, the Tiger defender capitalizes on the low kick and gets enough of the ball to prevent it from reaching the uprights:
Circled in red, Raborn watches as the ball (bright highlight) bounces just short of the “BAMA” on the central goalpost support. Although the Crimson Tide shrugged off the mistake and won the game easily, Saban had seen enough from his backup and quickly inserted Griffith back onto the first-team placekicking unit. Griffith was perfect on his two extra points later in the game, rewarding Saban for his quick hook on Raborn, who unfortunately now has his own nightmares to contend with.
All video and images courtesy ESPN.com and WatchESPN.
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