Florida State’s Special Teams Disaster Part 2: The Fake Punt

Special teams often do strange things, and so much can go wrong even on routine sequences. Stupid decisions on trick plays certainly don’t help. The Florida State Seminoles defeated the Florida Gators on Saturday despite several special teams gaffs. In Part 2 of this two-part ST disasterpiece, Chuck Zodda turns to their insipid fake punt.

Locked in a tight battle with the Florida Gators on Saturday, the Florida State Seminoles found themselves in a difficult situation. With 11:57 remaining in the fourth quarter, they faced a 4th-and-10 from the Gator 38-yard line. The area between an opponent’s 35 and 40 is essentially the Bermuda Triangle of college football on fourth down: too far for many college kickers to boot a field goal with any reliability, yet too close to the end zone to risk a touchback on a punt. For this reason, many teams typically go for it on fourth down in this range.

Florida State decided to make things complicated. They sent out their punt unit that had already seen one kick blocked in the first half. Punter Cason Beatty (#38) placed his heels at the Seminole 37-yard line to wait for the snap:

Fake1

Ahead of him and to his right is defensive end Mario Edwards, Jr. (circled in red). Edwards is part of the wall on Florida State’s punt shield formation. The wall is generally comprised of larger players tasked with blocking rushers coming through the A-gaps. The primary attributes required of these players are strength and decision-making. Speed is not a factor for their most critical responsibility – protecting the punter.

Nevertheless, after finding themselves stuck in the netherworld of college football field position, the Seminoles turned to Edwards as their salvation. Florida State’s center snaps the ball, not to Beatty but to Edwards:

Fake2

As the ball is snapped, Giorgio Newbury (#4) and DeMarcus Walker (#44) take off to their left as lead blockers, indicated in green. They are responsible for creating a hole for Edwards. The DE takes a small drop-step to allow them to begin before following behind. Meanwhile, Beatty heads to his right in a half-hearted fake that fools no one.

As the play develops, there appears to be a potential hole for Edwards:

Fake3

Just to the left of Edwards is a gap with friendly colors presenting a clear channel. But the big DE has a problem. At 6’3” and 294 pounds, Edwards doesn’t have the speed of a running back or wide receiver. He has the speed of a lineman. In his high school scouting profile from Rivals.com, his 40-yard dash time is listed at 4.8 seconds, slower than what is demanded on this play. The nearest Florida defender has identified the fake, and is moving towards Edwards:

Fake4

What appeared to be a running lane instead vanishes long before Edwards can reach it. The Gator defender brings him down nearly five yards shy of the first down to give Florida the ball in good field position. However, it is important to point out that this result is not due to any failure by Edwards.

The first issue is trying to pick up 10 yards on a fake punt. Punt fakes generally rely on surprise to gain several yards; they are not designed to generate significant yardage. Many of the players on punt teams lack well-honed offensive skill sets; they are players who are strong blockers, runners, and tacklers. Running offensive plays is not something that is highly sought-after on the punt team. Florida State would have been better off running its regular offense out there on this play.

Beyond that, the Seminoles gave Florida an easy clue at the start of this play to any player who was paying attention. Here is the alignment of the Florida State wall pre-snap:

Fake5

Edwards and Walker are on the opposite side of the formation and they switch places before the snap, indicated by red arrows. The trigger for this is evident by Walker’s head. Highlighted in the brightened circle, Edwards and Newbury are both looking over at the Seminole bench before the swap. Florida State alters their formation in a way that is in view of the entire Gator defense. This is an immediate red flag for a defense.

Florida State’s special teams had a terrible day on Saturday. Their blocked punt attempt in the first half failed due to poor execution, while this play failed due to poor coaching decisions. Good coaching enables natural talent to achieve a higher level of performance. Bad coaching puts players in situations where they cannot accomplish the tasks in front of them. Because of this, the Seminoles will continue to have major questions as they head towards the ACC Championship Game and potentially the College Football Playoff.

Follow Chuck on Twitter @ITP_ChuckZ.

Chuck Zodda knows the importance of staying in your lane, how to fake a punt return, thehumanity of punters, proper placekicking technique and the Jets.

All video and images courtesy ESPN.com and WatchESPN.

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