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Notre Dame Football: Jonathan Doerer’s Three Goals For Better Kickoffs

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Eliminate mistakes. Minimize opponent opportunities. Win games.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 01 Michigan at Notre Dame Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Jonathan Doerer and Harrison Leonard have been competing in the kicking competition, but much of the focus during the Notre Dame Fighting Irish’s summer camp has been on field goals.

Today, I’m focusing on kickoffs and using Sports Source Analytics to show you where Doerer — and the coverage team beside him — needs to improve for the Irish in 2019.

STEP 1: ELIMINATE SELF-INFLICTED WOUNDS

There were 39 kickoffs in Football Bowl Subdivision games returned for touchdowns in 2018 — and two against Jonathan Doerer.

While the junior isn’t responsible for the kick team maintaining lane discipline — or missing tackles — he should be able to put it on a specific side of the field to narrow a returner’s options. The 99-yard returns by the Michigan WolverinesAmbry Thomas and the Pittsburgh Panthers’ Maurice French both started in the middle of the field.

Fans also expressed frustration about three of Doerer’s 59 kickoffs landing out of bounds, drawing an immediate 10-yard penalty each time. Stadium’s Andy Wittry analyzed 6,500 drives from college football last season and determined that a team’s scoring rate improved 9.1 percent if it started from started from its 31 to 35 yard line as opposed to its own 21 to 25 yard line.

I don’t want to oversell a kick out of bounds, because it isn’t a guaranteed killer. You don’t, however, need to give a good opponent any unnecessary advantage.

Here’s a chart showing the FBS kickers who put the highest percentage of balls out of bounds (minimum 50 attempts):

Kicks Out of Bounds, 2018

Rank Player Team Out of bounds Attempts Percentage
Rank Player Team Out of bounds Attempts Percentage
1 Kevin Robledo SMU 6 62 9.68%
2 Jake Stone USF 5 53 9.43%
3 Cooper Garcia Massachusetts 5 54 9.26%
4 Jake McClure Oklahoma State 7 89 7.87%
5 Evan Pantels UNLV 4 52 7.69%
5 Ryan Rimmler Ball State 4 52 7.69%
7 Rafael Checa Penn State 6 79 7.59%
8 Clayton Hatfield Texas Tech 6 87 6.90%
9 Danny Longman Boston College 4 60 6.67%
10 Jesse Kelly Eastern Michigan 4 62 6.45%
11 Bubba Baxa Miami (Florida) 4 69 5.80%
12 Kyle Pfau Lousiana-Lafayette 4 70 5.71%
13 Corliss Waitman South Alabama 3 55 5.45%
14 Drew Galitz Baylor 3 56 5.36%
14 Jonathan Doerer Notre Dame 3 56 5.36%
14 Jake Koehnke Air Force 3 56 5.36%
Sports Source Analytics

STEP 2: MINIMIZE RETURN OPPORTUNITIES

While it may seem like every kicker except your favorite team’s can put it past the end zone whenever he damn well pleases, that’s not accurate.

There were 9,793 kickoffs last year — excluding obvious onsides attempts — and 5,167, or 52.8 percent, were either touchbacks or fairly caught between the goal line and the 25 yard line. (A rule, introduced last year in college football, treated fair catches made between the goal line and the 25-yard line like a touchback.)

Of Doerer’s 56 attempts, 25 were touchbacks and an additional 8 were fairly caught. Fifty-nine percent of his kicks generated no opponent return, better than the national average.

However, Doerer doesn’t even rank among the top 50 NCAA players for unreturned kicks. Here’s the top 15 (minimum 50 kicks):

Unreturned Kicks, 2018

Rank Player Team Touchbacks Fair catches Total Attempts % Unreturned
Rank Player Team Touchbacks Fair catches Total Attempts % Unreturned
1 Avery Atkins LSU 71 1 79 91.1%
2 Jake Bailey Stanford 60 5 72 90.3%
3 Nick Vogel UAB 71 1 80 90.0%
4 Rodrigo Blankenship Georgia 82 1 96 86.5%
5 Austin Seibert Oklahoma 91 3 109 86.2%
6 Jordan Stout Virginia Tech 60 1 71 85.9%
7 Zach Hintze Wisconsin 54 1 66 83.3%
8 Sean Young FIU 48 1 59 83.1%
9 Lucas Havrisik Arizona 60 1 74 82.4%
10 Anders Carlson Auburn 51 4 70 78.6%
11 Caleb Pratt East Carolina 44 1 58 77.6%
12 Braden Mann Texas A&M 57 5 80 77.5%
13 Logan Tyler Florida State 37 2 51 76.5%
14 Sterling Hofrichter Syracuse 61 16 101 76.2%
15 Ryley Guay Vanderbilt 51 2 70 75.7%
Sport Source Analytics

Doerer’s performance last year put him between Spencer Evans of the Purdue Boilermakers (59.5 percent) and Cooper Rothe of the Wyoming Cowboys (58.2 percent).

STEP 3: WHEN RETURNED, MINIMIZE YARDS

The average non-onsides kickoff went 61 yards last year. Of those 4,162 that were not touchbacks or fair catches, the average return was 20.6 yards.

Notre Dame — with Doerer kicking off — was decidedly average. Doerer’s 20 returnable kickoffs went an average 61.1 yards and were brought back an average of 21 yards.

Doerer split time with Justin Yoon last year; the senior had 14 returnable kickoffs that went 58.7 yards and were brought back an average of 12.9 yards.

Bill Connelly, writing then for SB Nation’s Football Study Hall, has long considered field position to be one of his five factors to winning football games.

“If you win the field position battle (using average starting field position), you win 72 percent of the time,” he wrote in 2014. “This is from 2013 college football game data. It’s very, very similar from year to year.”

It’s obvious that Doerer as Notre Dame’s starting field goal kicker will be integral to the team’s success this year. What’s less obvious is the importance of his kickoffs. If the junior can eliminate some of the blemishes from his 2018 performance, he’ll be an important — but likely underrecognized —- part of the team’s good fortune.