June 9, 2008

"Hidden Yardage" and Special Teams

Special teams play is an area of football that is often overlooked. While offense and defense receive most of the attention, special teams play accounts for one-third of game plays. The Central Michigan coaching staff uses the idea of "hidden yardage" to assess the performance of CMU's special teams.

The concept of hidden yardage covers all areas of special teams (punt, punt return, kickoff, and kick return). These areas of the game are especially important because field position is a major determinant of scoring offense. Hidden yardage can be defined as the difference (positive or negative) from what is considered "ground zero" of the kicking game.

For the Central Michigan football program, "ground zero" for the punting game is a net gain of 37 yards. Thus, a CMU punt of 45 yards with an opposing return of 5 yards would result in +3 in hidden yardage. Conversely, an opposing punt of 43 yards, with a spectacular 28-yard return by Antonio Brown, would result in +22 in hidden yardage for the Chippewas.

However, if CMU's punter places the ball inside the 20, the yard line of the ball spot is subtracted from the 20 to get the hidden yardage. So, a net punt of 33 yards that lands on the 4 would calculate to +16 yards of hidden yardage. In the rare event that a punt is both abnormally long and lands inside the 20, the larger of the two numbers is the one factored into the hidden yardage total.

The Central Michigan coaching staff considers the 30 yard line ground zero for the kicking game. Thus, a kickoff returned by Brown to the 42 would result in +12 and a CMU kickoff with an opposing returner tackled at the 37 would calculate to -7 in hidden yardage.

This idea of hidden yardage goes a long way to explain certain statistics about both the offensive and defensive statistics of the Chippewas. It is no coincidence that in 2007 CMU had the best returner in the MAC in Brown, while simultaneously leading the conference in scoring.

Other statistics reflect the importance of winning the hidden yardage (aka "field position") battle. According to Plas Presnell, CMU's Director of Football Operations, "Roughly 3% of all scoring drives that originate on or inside of the offense's own 20 ultimately result in a score."

A difference of 65-100 in hidden yardage consistently translates to roughly one touchdown. Hidden yardage and special teams play are extremely important factors in determining the success of any team. Keep this idea and these numbers the next time you watch Chippewa football.

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