Had NCAA’s new kickoff rule been in place last year?
It’s hard to say now, but one can wonder if the results of Clemson’s Sugar Bowl loss to Alabama might have been different had the NCAA’s new rule for kickoff returns been in place.
The new kickoff rule allows a team to fair catch the football anywhere inside the 20-yard line and it will be brought out to the 25.
If you recall, the Crimson Tide forced Clemson to return the opening kick after kicking the ball to the goal line. Running back Travis Etienne got to the 16-yard line and in a game where both defenses dominated, Alabama had a leg up in field position right off the bat.
It proved to be a pivotal point in a game where field position was going to be the main factor. Alabama eventually used the strategy to get a first-quarter field goal and did the same later in the game as well to get more points.
Eight of the Tigers’ 13 drives that night in New Orleans started at or inside the 20-yard line and five of those started at the 16 or less. In those eight possessions backed up to its own goal line, Clemson kicked a field goal, punted four times, turned the ball over on downs one time, was intercepted once—which directly resulted in a touchdown—and the other was the end of the first half.
In contrast, Alabama started just two drives all night inside its own 20-yard line and made a living on Clemson’s end of the field.
So would the new kickoff rule have helped Clemson’s chances this past New Year’s?
“I think it is a good change. It will be interesting to see how it plays,” Dabo Swinney said when asked about the new rule earlier this week.
However, the Clemson coach does not feel that the new kickoff rule will accomplish its main objective, which is to limit injuries.
“I think from a kickoff standpoint, you have to cover it,” he said. “You don’t know if they are going to return it, fair catch it or whatever. You have to cover the kick as if it is coming out every single time, so those blocks and things are still taking place.
“I think from a kickoff standpoint, it does not change anything. You just have to assume the ball is coming out whether the ball is in the end zone or they catch it on the ten. You better cover it like it is a live ball.”
Swinney did admit it will change the game from a kickoff return standpoint, making the case Clemson might have had a better chance in the Alabama game if field position was not so lopsided. Offensive coordinators will now have better field position to call plays than trying to be so conservative because they are backed up against their own goal line.
“It is probably going to be different from game to game, kick to kick, depending on the situation you are involved in during the flow of the game,” Swinney said. “That will probably be case-by-case bases. I don’t know if you will say this is what we are doing every time. I think it depends on who you are playing and what is the situation in the game. You may tell them we are bringing it back every time no matter what or maybe it is a different situation in a game and we are going to fair catch this ball and take it on the 25 and let’s go from there.
“It gives you more options and little different strategies you could apply.”
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