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Alabama Football's Unsung Hero for 2012: Cody Mandell

If a punter does not make ESPN's Sportscenter, it's probably a good thing.

Cody Mandell.
Cody Mandell.

Okay, before you scoff at an article about punting, realize that football is a game of strategy and those who win the field position battle, usually win the war. Coach Nick Saban realizes the importance of specialty teams which is evident in his giving one of his precious 25 scholarships to incoming freshman long snapper Cole Mazza and one to punter JK Scott in 2014.

What some may have not noticed, is how vital the job of punting was in securing the 2012 BCS National Championship. A quick look at Cody Mandell's season clearly shows his importance:

Opponent Final Pt Spread Punts Average Longest
Michigan 27 4 47 59

The Punts: The first series of the game stalls out in a 3 and out. Mandell forces a fair catch on a 57 yard boomer to the Michigan 22. By the time he kicks again, the Tide is up 24-0 in the 2nd quarter. The 49-yarder is downed at the Michigan 2. At 34-14, his third punt was only for 29 yards but resulted in a fair catch at the UM 8. His final kick of 59 yards to the UM 17 put the final nail in the Wolverines casket.

Score: A+; You can’t get much better than that.

Synopsis: If he had shanked that first kick or allowed a return, things might have been tighter in the first half. Each kick was another dagger in Michigan’s heart.

Opponent Spread Punts Average Longest
Western Kentucky 35 5 44.8 48

The Punts: First punt for 43 yards for a touchback. Second, 46 yards, downed at the WKU 34. Third, 44 yards to the 10, returned 14 yards to the WKU 24. Fourth, 48 yards, fair catch at the WKU 11. Fifth, 43 yards, returned 1 yard to the WKU 18.

Score: B-; Not great but not bad.

Synopsis: A pretty consistent day for Mandell. Added bonus was his 18-yard scamper for a first down to the WKU 45 in the 4th quarter. The play kinda woke up the Tide who had been stuck on 28-0 for awhile and led to their 5th and final TD of the day.

Opponent Spread Punts Average Longest
@Arkansas 52 2 35 36

The Punts: A lackluster 3 and out to open the game was followed by Mandell’s 36 yarder, returned 1 yard to the Ark 39. The second kick two series later went for 34 yards and landed out-of-bounds at the Ark 37. His services would not be needed the rest of the game.

Score: C-

Synopsis: No excuse here. He had an off day. Fortunately, it was not a factor as the Tide rolled to a 52-0 win.

Opponent Spread Punts Average Longest
Florida Atlantic 33 1 29 29

The Punt: Up 33-0 late in the 3rd, Dee Hart and Blake Sims drive to the FAU 39. Mandell punts for 29 yards, downed at the FAU 10.

Score: B

Synopsis: His only punt of the day did not travel far but you can’t complain about a kick downed at the 10.

Opponent Spread Punts Average Longest
Ole Miss 19 3 41 42

The Punts: First kick 41 yards, fair catch at the Ole Miss 21. Second, 40 yards, returned for 10 yards to the OM 30. Third, at his own 15 yard line went 41 yards out-of-bounds to the OM 44.

Score: C+

Synopsis: Not the best of outings for Cody, but kept the Rebs from getting any big returns.

Opponent Spread Punts Average Longest
@Missouri 32 4 38 53

The Punts: On a wet day, facing into the wind, and Saban’s faith in the field goal kickers waning, Mandell was sent onto the field to punt from the Mizz 35. The ball bounced at the 6 and downed at the 12. Up 28-7 at midfield, Cody lets a snap go through his hands for a 17 yard loss. In a torrential downpour, punt #2 goes 36 yards, returned 14 yards to the Alabama 44. As the rains let up, a 53-yarder and a 41 yarder that induced a fair catch at the Mizzou 16 rounded out the day.

Score: B-

Synopsis: Under the crazy wet conditions, I think he gets bit of a pass.

Opponent Spread Punts Average Longest
@Tennessee 31 2 44 49

The Punts: First possession, 3 and out, a 39 yard punt out-of-bounds at the Tenn 28. Up 23-10 in the 3rd quarter, a 49 yard kick is returned 13 yards to the Alabama 42.

Score: C+

Synopsis: The net turns out to be 37.5 ypp. Not great but fortunately not a factor in the game’s outcome.

Opponent Spread Punts Average Longest
Mississippi State 31 5 42.2 61

The Punts: Bama is up 21-0 before Mandell steps on the field which goes 38 yards for a fair catch; Next, 59 yards for a touchback (net 39); 61 yards, downed at the MSU 5; 34 yards, downed at the 2; and a 4th quarter 19-yard shank that hit a Bulldog and was recovered by Bama.

Score: C

Synopsis: One great punt and one almost great punt, offset by some mediocre kicks and a shank.

Opponent Spread Punts Average Longest
@LSU 4 7 45.1 56

The Punts: Opening possession, another 3 & out yields a 46 yard punt, no return plus a 10 yard penalty on LSU. At the LSU 39, Mandell punts for a touchback. Bama leading 7-3, Cody gets off a 56 yard boomer out-of-bounds at the LSU 9. At 14-3, a 42-yarder, 6 yard return to the LSU 33. Next a 33 yarder, fair catch at the LSU 42. Followed by 45 yards, returned 10 yards to the LSU 37. And then the biggest kick of the game – down 17-14, at his own 27, Mandell flips the field, unloading a 55 yard punt, fair caught the LSU 18.

Score: A-

Synopsis: He came up big in a big game.

Opponent Spread Punts Average Longest
Texas A&M 5 4 56.5 60

The Punts: First possession, 3 & out (sound familiar?); 60 yards. Down 14-0, 54 yards. At 20-14, a 60 yard touchback. Still down 23-17, 52 yarder.

Score: A+

Synopsis: Another great performance in a big game. If the Tide had won this game, Mandell’s performance would’ve been recognized more.

Opponent Spread Punts Average Longest
Western Carolina 49 2 42 46

The Punts: Mandell did not punt until the 4th quarter with back-up QB Blake Sims at the helm - 46 yards with a fair catch and 38 yards, downed at the WCU 7.

Score: A

Synopsis: Solid.

Opponent Spread Punts Average Longest
Auburn 49 2 48.5 50

The Punts: Same as the WCU game, Cody made his first kick in the 4th with Sims quarterbacking - 47 yards, fair catch and 50 yards, downed at the Auburn 1.

Score: A+

Synopsis: Only two opportunities but yet another big game in a spotlight game.

Opponent Spread Punts Average Longest
Georgia 4 5 41.8 48

The Punts: 1st quarter 48 yard touchback (poor coverage) and 36 yards for a fair catch at the UGA 13. 2nd quarter, 42 yards. The last two came in the 4th Qtr and pinned UGA behind their own 20 – 42 yards fair catch at the UGA 8 and 41 yards, with hang time, fair catch at the UGA 15.

Score: A-

Synopsis: Cody limited returns and often flipped the field on the Dawgs.

Opponent Spread Punts Average Longest
Notre Dame 28 4 49.3 55

The Punts: The Tide is up 21-0 before Mandell gets to show his stuff - a 52 yards punt which was fumbled but recovered by the Irish for a 4 yard loss. Next possession, 55 yards, returned for nothing at the ND 4. Up 42-14, a 41 yarder, returned 6 yards to the ND 37 and a 49 yard touchback with 1 minute left in the game.

Score: A-

Synopsis: The first two must have broken the Irish’s will and hopes for any kind of comeback. Another solid effort.

Final Analysis: 44.3 yards per punt would’ve been enough for 15th best in the Nation but Mandell did not have enough kicks to qualify for stats held by the NCAA (minimum of 3.6 punts per game).

A lot of credit goes to the superb cover team – guys like Landon Collins - but the longest punt return against the Crimson Tide in 2012 was 14 yards and a total of 117 on the season.

He only had one miscue on a rainy day in Missouri and one shank against MSU after the Tide was up big late in the game.

Mandell seems to come up the biggest in the high-profile games (Michigan, LSU, TAMU, Notre Dame) which is key when field position can decide an outcome.

Average the grades and they come out to about a B. Average the grades of the big games and he is a solid A.