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What if Ole Miss never punted against Alabama?

They won’t actually do this. But maybe they should!

NCAA Football: Mississippi at Texas Tech Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Here’s the basic breakdown of Saturday night’s Ole Miss-Alabama game: the Rebels’ historically good offense will probably be able to put up points on the Tide, but a defense that got worked by an FCS school last week is going to hemorrhage points. As an Ole Miss fan, you wish you didn’t have to give the ball back after scoring.

So what if Ole Miss didn’t? What if the Rebels, knowing their defense stands no chance against the bullying Tide attack, kicked onside every time? What if instead of punting the ball into inevitability, Ole Miss went for every fourth down?

Matt Luke won’t actually do this, of course, but there is a strong statistical case study to suggest he should. Enter Kevin Kelley, a high school coach in Arkansas who’s become somewhat famous for his belief that a team should never purposefully give up the ball. Little Rock’s Pulaski Academy never punts and always kicks onside.

Kelley’s philosophy is couched in legitimate analytics.

According to a recent Andy Staples piece, “expected points helped [Kelly] determine that it’s almost always better to go for fourth-and-short in the middle of the field.”

Kelley gives each yard line an expected value and that’s how he judges the situation.

“Punting average is easily calculated, as is punt return average,” he told Staples. “Years of football data have created these numbers, and while they differ between high school, college and the NFL, they do not differ as much as you might think.”

Paul Dalen at Football Study Hall dove into this a little further.

  1. From the 1 to the 99-yard line, the expected points that a spot is worth ranges from about 0.5 points to six points. From this number, you have to subtract the opponent’s expected points for taking over on downs if the conversion is unsuccessful.
  2. Fourth-and-1 has a higher probability than 4th and 10, and this should factor into the decision.
  3. Numbers three and four are used to estimate the opponent’s field position if a decision to punt is made.
  4. The average expected punt is pretty easy to calculate based on past performance.
  5. The opponent’s expected punt return is estimated based on past performance.

(The basic formula is this: max of: ( P(conv) * exp pts ) - ( 1-P(conv) * exp pts ), or exp pts at spot after punt and return.)

Dalen has a unique perspective about deciding to punt from inside your own territory or going from it from inside your own territory.

The answer to that, I think, lies in the way that we view errors of commission versus errors of omission. Or in other words, a coach that makes a choice to punt the ball from the 20-yard line would be viewed as making sound decisions, whereas one that chooses to go for it on the 20-yard line is considered a risk-taker. If the decision to punt turns out to be the decision that gives the ball back and the opponent then scores a TD, then the decision to punt is hardly considered as part of the evaluation of the sequence of events. If the decision to go for it fails and the opponent scores a TD, then the decision will be second-guessed ad nauseum. The result of both decisions is the same, but one would be criticized much more harshly than the other.

Longo and quarterback Jordan Ta’amu could employ this by going fast, utilizing tempo, and keeping the pressure on Alabama’s defense by shooting from their own hip. You can instill that mindset by never punting and throwing to the nWo or handing it off to newly-found super star Scottie Phillips.

Lest we forget, you do have A.J. Brown, DaMarkus Lodge, D.K. Metcalf, and Braylon Sanders on your team. So why not let them cook?

To hell with punting and giving it back to Alabama.

SB Nation’s Brian Floyd wrote about Kelley’s never punt style back in 2011.

According to Kelley’s statistics, when a team punts from near its end zone, the opponent will take possession inside the 40-yard line and will then score a touchdown 77 percent of the time. If it recovers on downs inside the 10, it will score a touchdown 92 percent of the time. “So [forsaking] a punt, you give your offense a chance to stay on the field,” he said. “And if you miss, the odds of the other team scoring only increase 15 percent. It’s like someone said, ‘[Punting] is what you do on fourth down,’ and everyone did it without asking why.”

I don’t know about y’all, but I’m all for keeping the offensive unit on the field as much as possible given how bad defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff’s unit has been through two games.

Get creative on kickoffs by not kicking off.

Pulaski Academy doesn’t just onside kick, they are the Oregon of onside kicks. They run unconventional formations, motions, and use precision with their ball placement.

The brilliance to Kelley’s madness is that his concepts and decision-making are built around making the other team uncomfortable and minimizing the chance his team makes a mistake. We’ve all heard the predictions and the analysis for Saturday.

“You’ve got to play perfect against Nick Saban.”

“Limit mistakes and hit some big plays.”

So why give the ball back to them and Tua Tagovailoa only to let them have their own shot at putting up points? Keep your best unit on the field to give your team the best chance to put up points and to put pressure on Alabama.

Like Vin Diesel always says, “live your life a quarter mile at a time”.