Fair catch rule on kickoffs could reduce returns as college football weapon

October 13, 2018

The new fair catch rule on kickoffs and kickers’ increased leg strength leading to more touchbacks have diminished the return as an offensive weapon.

There were 16 kickoffs by Pitt and Syracuse on Saturday, but only one was returned. That was a 15-yard return by the Orange’s Sean Riley from the 5-yard line to the 20. Overall, there were 61 kickoffs returned for touchdowns last season; only 22 so far this season, according to NCAA statistics.

Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi and special teams coach Andre Powell have issued instructions to kickoff returner Maurice Ffrench. He has been told to stand on the goal line, inside the hash mark. Then, if he must take one step backward or sideways to catch the football, Ffrench has been ordered to signal fair catch and accept possession at the 25.

“It’s just too hard to get it timed up,” Narduzzi said.

Yet, there’s a downside. Ffrench has the ability to break a return for a long gain. He returned the season’s opening kickoff 91 yards for a touchdown against Albany.

When asked if he was in favor of eliminating the kickoff, Narduzzi had mixed feelings.

“In favor of it, yeah,” he said, “and then we won’t have any mess-ups where we don’t fair catch and you drop it. We talked about that field position every week about how we’re stuck down ... at the the 13-yard line and our average field position is the 19.

“Some of that is because guys trying to make plays and take it out of the end zone. And, then, the 25-yard line is a great place to start, let me tell you.

“You take one to the house and you start to get greedy and think, `Let’s go make a play.′ Maurice is pretty special.

“I don’t think (a kickoff) is a bad thing. For a game to start off without a kickoff would be sacrilegious a little bit.

“Just kick it off in the end zone, start at the 25 and let’s go, just so we can let the kickers do something. They’re on scholarship, too. They get paid a lot of money just to kick field goals and extra points. Might as well at least see if they’ve got (strong) legs.”

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