Mail Bag – Did Lacy Score? Critical of the KO Return Game Critque


Hey guys, we received a couple interesting emails this week and I want to share the discussion with everyone.

I suppose the first one is obvious based on the imagaes.  In our SEC Championship Post Game, I presented my opinion that – based on watching the replays – Eddie Lacy scored prior to the fumble.

Allow me to better set the stage.  Alabama’s second possession of the second quarter.  Georgia leading 7-0.  We’ve punted 3 times and fumbled once.  We need to shift the momentum our way.  And we accomplish this to a point.  We march the ball down the field with a mix of run (4 plays) and pass (3 plays) and on the 8th play we’re 2nd and Goal on the 1.  Easy touchdown, right?

The handoff goes to Lacy and he cuts to the right, is met with resistance, springs forward with second effort…. and fumbles the ball.  McCarron recovers at the 5 and on the 9th play of the drive we throw an interception in the end zone.  Opportunity lost.

However, I’m convinced that Lacy actually scored.  In the show I talk about this.  I talk about the exact camera angle pictured here (thanks Lance).  On this still image you see the ball emerging from the other side of the defender.  The live shot is great too because – and this is probably why it was missed – for a long 2 seconds you only see the player’s rear end.  There is no real point of focus because the motion is disorienting.  Your eyes don’t know where to look.  But if you’re paying close attention, you see the ball emerge and there it is, Touchdown.

Now here’s an interesting thought.  Not part of the email, but more a part of my thinking as I digested the game and prepped for the podcast.  A naysayer may look at this and argue that his knee could have been down so this shot alone is not enough to award the touchdown.  Ok, that’s fair.  However, this shot does show possession.  So if you’re not willing to award a visible TD because his knee might be down, then you probably can’t call the fumble for the same reason.

Had the officials spotted this image, I think we get the ball back at the 1 yard line, as the worst case scenario.  But that’s just my 2 cents.

 Click to embiggen


The second email was calling me to task for giving Cyrus Jones a hard time about his KO returns.  The writer asked how I could make such statements when the UGA kicker failed to put a single ball into the end zone.  Partly in frustration, partly in gest, and partly calling things how we see them, I made no bones in not being pleased with our return game decision making and suggested that we should be credited with negative return yards rather than the 89 awarded in the stat sheet.

I base my math on the idea of hidden lost yards.  A ball downed in the endzone will be spotted at the 25.  A ball ran from the endzone to the 20 will be spotted at the 20 and the returner will “earn” a 20 yard stat.  I trust I’m not alone in questioning that logic.

Now, back to the email.  Reading the mail, it made sense.  I might have over looked a short kick or two.  Afterall, a ball fielded short of the end zone might not be the bad decision I was making it out to be.  Perhaps I had been a little over the top.

So I went back – still had the game on the DVR – and watched eached of the KOs.  I wanted to either confirm my recollection or correct my mistake.  Sorry Wes, while you introduced valid food for thought, the tape was clear.  Here’s what went down in our KO game.

We fielded 5 KOs.  One to open the game and one to follow each of their 4 TDs.  Here they are in order.

#1 Openning KO – ball fielded with one foot in the end zone and one in the field of play.  Ball was caught in the chest of a player listed at 5-10.  Safe to say it would have landed in the end zone but was instead returned to exactly the 25.  This was a wash at best – a net zero – and the returner is awarded 25 return yards.

#2 2nd Qtr KO following GA touchdown – Ball hit at the 3 and took a high hop.  5-10 player jumped to catch it over his head and landed with 1 foot in the end zone and the other foot was on the goal line.  Safe to say this would have continued into the end zone but was returned to the 24.  A net loss of 1 for the team (think about email 1 before you minimize that distance) and a the returner is awarded 24 return yards.  49 total return yards on the day.

#3 3rd Qtr KO, our openning drive – ball lands clearly in the end zone to the returners right.  Returner is running to the ball and appears to have arms extended as if to catch it.  Was this an attempted return?  The film is inconclusive so you’re left to make your own judgement.  Ball spotted at the 25 as a touchback, no return yards awarded.

#4 3rd Qtr KO following the returned FG block – ball fielded at the 5.  The TV view was from GA’s endzone (horrible angle selection) so hard to tell how much force the ball still had.  Ball was returned to the 23 and another 15 was tacked on for a GA personal foul.  GA also had a player injured on the return.  From purely a field position play, we started the drive on the 38, so that’s positive but it took a penalty to make it happen and a player was injuried.  Not knowing if the ball would have achieved the end zone is significant but the oldest cliche in the return game is the saw about what you learn in high school… nail your toes to the ten and don’t step backwards.  I feel this one falls into a pattern but you can make your own call.  Returner was awarded the 18 (23-5) yard return for a running total of 67 yards.

#5 4th Qtr following GA scoring the go ahead TD – ball fielded on the goal line.  One foot in the end zone and one out.  Again, a 5-10 returner makes it pretty clear the ball would have landed in the end zone.  Ball was returned to the 22, but was fumbled before the returner was down.  Bama recovered the ball, but it was close.  We lose the ball here, we lose the game.  Additionally, Milliner was blantantly poked in the eye by a GA player while the officials were sorting the pile.  Milliner reacted – as most would – and was flagged for a personal foul.  Half the distance was marked off, and the drive started at the 11.  Now, forgetting the near loss of possession or even the potential injury to a key player, this next part seals the deal for me on this topic.  Ball is spotted at the 11 (post penality), returner is awarded 22 yards for a final total of 89 yards.

Using my approach – counting only yards returned beyond what would be given – we gained 14 return yards and even that is based on what I might still consider a bad decision to field a ball at the 5.

Are you still not sure about my approach, ok consider this.  How good would you consider an accountant who routinely boasts about how much he was saving you on your taxes by having you itemize your deductions when the sum of your itemization is less than the standard deduction allowed to all tax payers?  You spent money on a CPA for the opportunity to lose money on the return.  To me, that’s what risking the ball and player health is like to return a KO to the 23 feels like.  It’s an empty feeling knowing you could have done nothing and been better off.

So, upon review, I’m even more disappointed with our KO decision making than I was before I started the exercise.  I guess the bright side is that we have plenty of room for improvement.

That said, we greatly appreciate the questions and emails.  We enjoy the opportunity to engage with you guys and what’s better than a little sports related smack talk?  So feel free to email or comment at any time and we’ll do our best to respond.

Thanks and Roll Tide!