Super Punter Matt Araiza Flips the Field for Aztecs

San Diego State Aztecs P Matt Araiza
San Diego State Aztecs P Matt Araiza
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

NCAA Week 10 - Aztecs punter Matt Araiza may have been the most impactful player on the field in San Diego State's 17-10 victory against the Hawaii Warriors. And he may be the most impactful player for the 7-1 Aztecs this season.

Araiza's first punt on Saturday pinned the Warriors on their own 2-yard line, setting up a three-and-out and a short-field touchdown drive for San Diego State on its ensuing possession. Araiza the placekicker was on the field for San Diego State's second and only other touchdown of the day when the Aztecs' holder ran in a fake field goal attempt to take a 14-7 lead midway through the second quarter. Late in the first half, Araiza set the all-time NCAA FBS record with his 15th punt of the season of 60 or more yards, blasting a kick that sailed 87 yards in the air from his foot to the Hawaii 1-yard line and bounced into the end zone for a touchback. He also chipped in San Diego State's only other points in the game with a 39-yard field goal in the second half.

Araiza's "super punts" are winning Twitter and generating (mostly) tongue-in-cheek Heisman buzz, but how valuable has Araiza actually been on a punt-by-punt basis? He leads the nation in net punting through Week 10, averaging 52 net yards per kick, calculated as the difference between the punt yardage (measured from the punting team line of scrimmage to the yard line where the ball is received) and the receiving team's return yardage, including 20 return yards applied for each touchback on a punt. Araiza's net punting is very good, and is potentially record-setting if he can keep it up through the year. But as with almost every statistic in football, net punting requires a bit more context and is not exclusively attributable to the performance of the player that traditionally gets most or all of the credit.

Field position of the punting team and resulting field position of the receiving team are the key measures of the success of a punt. A conservative head coach who frequently punts from plus territory has an impact on net punting because even a very good punt and punt coverage from plus territory that pins an opponent deep is limited by the reduced real estate between the punter and the end zone. The 21 other players on the field in addition to the punter can have an outsized impact on net punting also, depending on how well the punt is covered by the punting team and how well the return is blocked by the receiving team.

My punt efficiency metric calculates the expected starting field position following a punt based on the field position of the punting team and compares it with the actual resulting starting field position for the receiving team. A punt from a team's own 10-yard line results in average starting field position for the receiving team in plus territory between the punting team's 45-yard line and midfield, netting 35 to 40 yards per punt. A punt from midfield results in average starting field position between the receiving team's own 20- and 15-yard lines, netting 30 to 35 yards per punt. Punts that produce greater value for the punting team pin a team deeper, and those that produce less value surrender better starting field position for the receiving unit. Punt efficiency results also take into account punts fumbled on the return and punts returned for scores, which combined account for 1.8% of all punt return events.

San Diego State ranks only 12th nationally in punt efficiency this week despite Araiza's heroics, which have produced four of the top seven field-flipping punts of the year (netting 75 to 86 yards each).

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Most of San Diego State's punts have been better than average but less extraordinary, and the Aztecs punt team did surrender a punt return touchdown against Utah in Week 3 (which is not represented in the chart). If they hadn't given up that score, San Diego State's punt efficiency rank would jump up to No. 2 overall.

The Aztecs rank fourth nationally in overall special teams rating and are one of only three teams that rank among the top 50 in each of the key metrics that constitute the overall rating: 11th in kickoff return efficiency, 20th in kickoff efficiency, 42nd in punt return efficiency, 12th in punt efficiency, and 34th in field goal efficiency. Araiza handles all of the punting and placekicking responsibilities for San Diego State, every bit of which has helped the Aztecs find success despite its offensive struggles.

No team has a greater disparity between its defensive efficiency (11th in DFEI) and its offensive efficiency (113th) to date this season. San Diego State is the only one-loss team with a below-average offense, and they are the only team ranked 90th or worse on offense that hasn't lost at least four times so far. The Aztecs have gone three-and-out on 38% of non-garbage drives this season, but Matt Araiza's leg has frequently turned those failures into field position advantages on the next possession. He isn't doing it all himself, but San Diego State wouldn't be a conference leader nor find itself in the College Football Playoff committee rankings without him.

2021 FEI Ratings (through Week 10)

FEI ratings (FEI) represent the per-possession scoring advantage each team would be expected to have on a neutral field against an average opponent. Offense ratings (OFEI) and defense ratings (DFEI) represent the per-possession scoring advantages for each team unit against an average opponent.

Preseason projected ratings are progressively phased out over the course of the season. Expanded ratings for all teams include overall, offense, defense, and special teams efficiency ratings. Ratings and supporting data are calculated from the results of non-garbage possessions in FBS vs. FBS games.

Rk Team Rec FEI OFEI Rk DFEI Rk
1 Georgia 9-0 1.58 1.40 3 1.93 1
2 Alabama 7-1 1.20 1.85 1 .87 9
3 Ohio State 8-1 1.11 1.75 2 .42 28
4 Michigan 8-1 .99 1.23 5 .69 13
5 Wisconsin 6-3 .79 .19 62 1.50 2
6 Iowa State 5-3 .73 .86 14 .63 17
7 Oklahoma State 7-1 .71 .41 44 1.16 3
8 Texas A&M 7-2 .70 .25 55 1.01 5
9 Wake Forest 7-1 .69 1.31 4 .03 61
10 Cincinnati 8-0 .67 .60 31 .94 8
11 Notre Dame 8-1 .67 .67 24 .64 16
12 Ole Miss 6-2 .65 1.21 6 .12 57
13 Utah 5-3 .63 .90 11 .47 27
14 Oklahoma 8-0 .62 1.17 7 -.06 67
15 Penn State 5-3 .60 .21 59 1.00 6
16 Auburn 5-3 .59 .64 26 .61 18
17 Oregon 7-1 .54 .99 10 .26 41
18 Baylor 6-2 .54 .71 23 .40 32
19 Texas 4-5 .54 .59 33 .36 35
20 Michigan State 7-1 .53 .57 34 .42 29
21 Purdue 6-3 .52 .43 43 .66 15
22 Boise State 5-4 .50 .33 51 .50 23
23 Nebraska 2-7 .50 .45 41 .87 10
24 Kansas State 5-3 .50 .76 18 .50 25
25 Florida 4-5 .50 .57 35 .55 20
26 Iowa 7-2 .49 -.22 84 1.16 4
27 NC State 6-2 .47 .34 49 .61 19
28 Pittsburgh 6-2 .46 .59 32 .33 36
29 Arkansas 5-3 .44 .80 16 .24 43
30 Clemson 5-3 .43 -.07 75 .94 7

Comments

9 comments, Last at 11 Nov 2021, 4:07pm

1 Robo-punter is real!

Robo-punter is real!

 

Edit: Wow, I didn't realize that discussion was so old!  2006!  So old that the link doesn't work!  Robo-punter was the first thing that came to mind for me.

ROBO-PUNTER: A theoretical punter whose punts were high enough and far enough to be downed at the one-yard line every single time. Discussed ad absurdum in the discussion thread for this article. This nickname also seems to have been borrowed by Pittsburgh Steelers fans to refer to Daniel Sepulveda. We would like royalties. No, no, we're kidding.

3 I think this ( https://www…

I think this ( https://www.footballoutsiders.com/four-downs/2006/four-downs-afc-south-1 ) is the actual link to the comment thread being referenced in the glossary. It is the May 30th, 2006 four-downs which looks like what https://www.footballoutsiders.com/2006/05/30/ramblings/four-downs/3917/ was trying to construct.

Using "site:footballoutsiders.com robo-punter 2006" as the google search string kicked it back as the first result. I use site: a lot with google since it's search is still better than the one provided by most sites, even if they are using an API provided by google for their searches.

I've got a few other broken links that I really should contact the staff about to fix.

2 1.93

1.93 DFEI!

4 ROBO-P

OMG, how much fun did we have with that?  Shows you how starved we were for the NFL in May.

As I read through the thread--stifling laugher anew--I have to give props to Pat, who seems to have coined the phrase/name ROBO-PUNTER.

I've probably mentioned here over the last almost two decades, but R-P reminds me of a book I read in the late 80s (an old GF was the editor) about a 50 year-old guy who, for whatever reason, could not miss a FG.  He'd never played football before and his talent was discovered by accident. A team signed him as a desperate lark, and eventually, every time they failed on 3rd, down, he'd score 3 from anywhere on the field.  Think about it, 10-12 possessions = a MINIMUM of 30 pts. every game. If they scored a TD, so much the better. The pressure to score for other teams was incredible.  Fans loved it, until they didn't and then, because the games were incredibly boring, the fans stayed away in droves.  The title:  The Man Who Ruined Football. 

ROBO-PUNTER, of course, scoffs at that. How does excellence, indeed perfection, possibly ruin football?!?! 

7 What a gem of an old thread…

What a gem of an old thread. Some of the other comments on that thread are interesting too. One person questioned whether Aaron Rodgers fell in the draft for a good reason; another said that Moss and TO wouldn't make the Hall of Fame. And I also did not remember the Brady/Manning debate was already happening in 2006!

8 Oh, that was the height of…

Oh, that was the height of the Brady/Manning debate, because 2006/7 hadn't made the whole thing moot yet. The real Brady/Manning debate was because (statistically) Brady was a "good" QB with three rings and Manning was the best QB in the league with none. 

2005-6 really started to fire things up because Brady started improving (still a ways away from Manning, though), but after 2006 the whole thing became a bit silly because, well, Manning had a ring now and Brady was then clearly on Manning's level.

Also I still have my doubts about Moss if he hadn't had the New England comeback. I know that seems insane, but six years just strikes me as way too little.