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SUPERLATIVES: 2020 Alabama Football Report Card — Special Teams

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This was a really mixed bag, and I suspect a good bit of it comes down to coaching.

CFP National Championship Presented by AT&T - Ohio State v Alabama Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

Midseason: Incomplete
Final Grade: C+/B-

Placekicking: A+

What we said at the midpoint:

The Big Dick Energy Award:

Will Reichard (PK) — After a decade of being scarred by missed field goals, all we wanted in life was to die having seen another competent kicker in Crimson; one who could reliably hit manageable field goals, not miss extra points, and give the offense a fighting chance to put three on the board if drives bog down. What we got was Will Reichard. A true weapon.

At quarterback, wide out, and even defensive back, we expect cocksure attitudes from those convinced that he swings the biggest schlong in the bar. But Reichard takes a back seat to no one. He is perfect on the year in kicks: He leads the nation at 37-of-37 on PAT, leads the nation in PAT attempts per game (6.2), is tied for first in FGA accuracy (100% 8-of-8 — long 52), and is 4th in the nation in scoring. And with the way he carries himself, you legitimately think he may never miss again.

Swing it freely, Will. You have won the Big Dick Energy Award.

What did Mr. Reichard do for a second-half encore? More of the same — literal perfection. For the season, he went 14-of-14 on FGA (long 52), 89 for 89 on FGA; and buried 21% of his kickoffs into the end zone. Reichard was 12th in the nation in scoring (9.7 PPG), and 5th in total points scored (behind No. 1 Najee Harris and No. 2 Devonta Smith).

Despite all this, Reichard did not win the Lou Groza Award given to the nation’s best kicker. Instead, those dunderheads gave it to a kicker from Miami who was just 91% accurate, only had 57 total kick attempts all season, and booted his KO attempts almost 5 yards shorter than Reichard’s robo-leg.

Still, Will was named a first-team All-American by one service, and a second-teamer by another— though none from the major wire services. What was more baffing, he wasn’t even named to the All-SEC team. It honestly feels as though Reichard is being punished because the offense was frankly too good. As the 2022 Draft Grades come down the pipe over the summer, I suspect we’ll see Mr. Reichard’s name crop up.

Despite lacking an All-SEC or Lou Groza tag, the good news for both Will and ‘Bama is that we will have him back at least one more year; he’ll just be a junior this season. And Will was the winner of this year’s far more prestigious Big Dick Energy award. At this rate, it feels like a healthy Will Reichard never miss another kick.

Mississippi State vs Alabama
Do you even lift, bro?!
Photo by UA Athletics/Collegiate Images/Getty Images

Poll

Grade the 2020 Alabama Kicking performance

This poll is closed

  • 45%
    A+
    (199 votes)
  • 34%
    Holy s#%&, we have a kicker again!
    (150 votes)
  • 20%
    I pee myself a little because I’m so happy
    (92 votes)
441 votes total Vote Now

Punting: D-

The less said about punting, the better. Freshman walk-on Sam Johnson got the nod in the first four games — and squeezed out an anemic 35 YPP. Down the stretch Air Force transfer and JK Scott’s sibling, Charlie Scott, was named starter. He was better, but it still wasn’t pretty — just 39.5 YPP gross, not net. Ty Perine apparently was in the doghouse all season or banged Jeff Scott’s wife, because despite getting the call last year, he didn’t have a single attempt in 2020.

Don’t let Scott’s 39.18 YPP average fool you — in 2/3rds of his 9 games, he kicked below that average. In two games, his punts didn’t even clear 35 yards per attempt. johnson had much the same issue — a respectable if not spectactular 39-40 YPG in half his appearances, and then two games where he was under 35 YPA. The Georgia game broke Nick Saban, I think — 4 attempts for 32 yards-per in a game where defense and field position were a must early. That was the last we saw of Johnson on the year.

Alabama was 118th in the nation in YPP average — 38.0; only Purdue and Minnesota were worse among the Power 5 — and both of those teams had losing records. The Tide were dead last in the SEC in net punting, which was mercifully offset by only having to kick 2.5 times per game. Only UF kicked fewer times per game (2.4) among all Power 5 teams. But it harmed the defense, for sure. Tide opponents were able to start in favorable field position 41% of the time, and that lack of punting efficiency made Alabama just the 67th most effective team at limiting field position.

Still, no one got blocked for a return, and the Tide’s punt return unit permitted no scores. So that’s the only thing that keeps this group from earning a failing grade.

This unit needs a lot of work. Either that, or Alabama needs to plan on a four-down offense.

Poll

Grade the 2020 Alabama Punting performance

This poll is closed

  • 21%
    C-ish
    (82 votes)
  • 40%
    D-ish
    (158 votes)
  • 18%
    F
    (70 votes)
  • 20%
    I get up to grab an adult beverage when Alabama punts; this is just too sad to actually watch.
    (78 votes)
388 votes total Vote Now

Return Teams: B+

This unit would earn an A if the electric Jaylen Waddle had not been injured. He was a terrifying playmaker that had to be schemed around every game, in two phases.

So goes the conventional wisdom.

But, truth is, the return game was even more dynamic with Smitty returning kicks. Teams had stopped punting to Waddle, but they did decide to test Devonta Smith, and the Slim Reaper made teams pay. He averaged 21.55 yards per return on the season and scored a dynamite touchdown to help pad those Heisman stats.

Why doesn’t this unit get higher marks then? Simple answer — its aggressively mediocre kick return game. The Tide finished 59th out of 120-ish teams in kick return efficiency on the year. If that’s not average, nothing is. Senior TE Carl Tucker had a 23-yard upman return against the Rebels, but not a single other ‘Bama player averaged that 20-yard-per-attempt gold standard for competent kick returners. Waddle and Smitty were particularly ineffective in the role, going well under 15 YPA. And, god only knows what Jeff Scott was smoking, but ‘Bama’s leading KR was a freaking tight end.

It’s good that ‘Bama’s defense improved down the stretch, because watching a combination of Brian Robinson or Jahleel Billingsley return kicks made me die a little bit inside every single time. That’s not a slight on either of those players, but one is a bruising RB2 and the other is a literal tight end...and kick returning just isn’t the forte of either gentleman; they were better than 17 and 6 were, but they still were well under 20 yards per attempt.

This is an area that needs massive improve.

Poll

Grade the 2020 Alabama Special Teams Return Game performance

This poll is closed

  • 10%
    A-ish
    (36 votes)
  • 33%
    B-ish
    (111 votes)
  • 33%
    C-ish
    (112 votes)
  • 5%
    D-ish
    (17 votes)
  • 17%
    Thank god for Smitty
    (57 votes)
333 votes total Vote Now

Misc: C-

Alabama simply did not get much pressure on opponents in the kicking game. It was 91st in opponent FGA efficiency — that is to say, teams got good looks at the goalposts and banged them in about 75% of the time. Some of that is coaching, to be sure. But some is just the ‘Bama Placekicking Curse. Every kicker and quarterback seems to have a career day against Alabama: it is the opponent’s Super Bowl, and it shows.

But, I am also inclined to believe that was more a function of coaching or not putting the right players on the field in pressure situations. Because of a lack of pressure on opposing punters, Alabama was just 67th in the nation in limiting field position.

There was some good news — Alabama’s gunner teams were very good. The Tide held opponents to just 4.4 YPA in punt returns (28th, 5th SEC). In the kicking game, the results were about about the same (25th overall, 4th SEC, 18.18 YPR). Not stellar, no, but in the top 20% nationally and in top third of the conference. And, while Alabama did not block a single kick this year, it did not surrender a blocked kick either.

Small victories, eh?

Finally, let’s talk about coaching. Jeff Scott is a fantastic recruiter, but 1. He’s not worth his asked-for $1m per year, and 2. I’m not sure I saw much actual coaching out there, ya’ know? What I did see was native talent — Reichard was the nation’s top kicking recruit and a 5-star recruit. More importantly, he was healthy. Smitty is just Smitty. And Alabama’s gunner teams have always been good. Speed alone should get Alabama in top 20% in yards allowed on kicks and punts.

Where the coaching would really apply is in forcing pressure — and Alabama was not very good in that respect, it gave up too much choice field position and failed to block a kick — and in kick return formations, blocking, and personnel. This is where we go back to a literal tight end as KR1. I guess give Scott props for creativity, but it made little sense, was ineffective, and I devoutly hope to not see it return in 2021.

Poll

Grade the 2020 Alabama Special Teams Miscellaneous performance

This poll is closed

  • 3%
    A-ish
    (9 votes)
  • 29%
    B-ish
    (75 votes)
  • 44%
    C-ish
    (114 votes)
  • 7%
    D-ish
    (19 votes)
  • 14%
    Jeff Scott should be fired into the sun. Only offensive coordinators get to be that dumb.
    (37 votes)
254 votes total Vote Now