made a short documentary on Kevin Kelley— the high school football coach who’s beloved by stat heads for his radical philosophies.
Kelley’s Pulaski Academy high school football team never punts and always onside kicks, and they’ve won three Arkansas state championships in the last 10 years as a result.
In the documentary Kelley explained the simple maths behind his aggressive style.
It’ll convince you that teams should just never punt, and always onside kick it.
Why you should never punt
The traditional assumption is that punting reduces your opponent’s chance to score. But in reality you only reduce your opponent’s chance a little bit, and you reduce your own chances to 0%.
Statistically, it’s not worth it.
Here’s a great example from the documentary.
If your team has 4th down at its own five-yard line and doesn’t get the first down, the other team’s chance of scoring is 92%:
If your team punts on 4th down at its own five-yard line, the other team will get it (on average) at the 40-yard line:
From the 40-yard line, they still have a 77% of scoring.
That’s only a 15% difference. They’re probably going to score if you don’t pick up a first down in this situation no matter what.
When you factor in that Pulaski makes a first down on 50% of its 4th-down attempts, it makes more statistical sense to go for it:
Kelley’s maths is backed up by other like-minded football progressives, including Cal professor David Romer — who did a study that found that teams, generally, shouldn’t punt.
This is especially true in high school football, where punters are unreliable.
Why you should always onside kick
Turnovers are the best predictor of winning a game in football because they result in extra possessions. Since a successful onside kick creates an extra possession, you should try it in almost every situation.
In addition, the downside of failing on an onside kick is surprisingly insignificant.
Kelley’s team once got a 29-0 lead without the opponent touching the ball as a result of this philosophy.
The average kickoff will give the opponent the ball on the 33-yard line:
The average failed onside kick will give the opponent the ball on the 47-yard line:
That’s only a 14-yard difference:
Since Pulaski succeeds on 20% of its onside kicks, risking those 14 yards is always worth it:
By not trying an onside kick, you reduce your chances of creating an extra possession from 20% to 0%, and you only push your opponent back 14 yards.
Here’s the full short, it’s worth the watch:
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