Thursday, May 24, 2018
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Flaws in BG's punt protection surfacing

BOWLING GREEN - Few thought the forward pass would work.

More recently, many felt the same way about the spread offense.

And now, there are some doubters, perhaps Bowling Green State University fans, about the punt formation the Falcons have used for the past year and a half, the "shield."

A handful of other teams, including Oregon, Arizona State and Florida, use the formation, which places seven players spread out on the line of scrimmage and a trio of linemen directly in front of the punter.

Despite three blocked punts and other near-misses by Falcons opponents this season, BGSU coach Gregg Brandon is sticking to his guns on the setup.

"There's nothing wrong with the scheme as it's set. It's very effective, and sound," Brandon said. "The problems we've had haven't been created by the opposition, they've been created by us not paying attention to detail."

The advantage of the formation is better coverage downfield. Lou Holtz was one of the first big-school coaches to install the punt formation, in 2003 at South Carolina, when he knew he was facing a speedy punt returner that week.

The extra gunners allow the Falcons to stifle the return man. This season BGSU is giving up just 4.4 yards per return, compared to its own average of 14.5.

"The teams that employ the spread punt, where they form the pocket and they back-pedal, they don't cover punts as well," Brandon said.

Although some say the shield takes less time to teach than the conventional spread formation, discipline is necessary to succeed at it. Senior Nate Fry of Findlay had a punt blocked in the Boise State game, and Ohio University broke the shield twice for blocks in the teams' matchup, returning the second one for a touchdown.

Brandon said one of the punt blocks in the Ohio game was because Fry took too many steps and got too close to the shield, and the other was because one of the players in the trio missed a block. The block against Boise State occurred because the blocking assignments were miscalculated.

"We've had to continue to stress discipline in that unit. We'll continue to do that," Brandon said. "You've just got to keep coaching."

The University at Buffalo didn't block a punt in last weekend's game, but the Bulls still caused the Falcons some duress in that situation.

Buffalo used a scheme the Falcons had not previously seen, placing six men in between BGSU's guards and flooding the shield. Although the Bulls' strategy ultimately favored BGSU because Buffalo was penalized twice for roughing the kicker, Brandon said it was the reason Fry was off on two of his punts, when he sent the ball out of bounds.

"We've got to do a better job protecting. He can't get hit like that," Brandon said.

As more teams use the shield formation, it will become easier to execute because of film study. Right now Brandon said there isn't much tape to observe and see what teams do to combat it.

NOTES: Brandon said running back P.J. Pope's playing status for the Falcons' game against Western Michigan on Saturday isn't yet known. ... BGSU's game at Kent State on Nov. 5 will air on FSN Ohio and Comcast Local in Michigan. The start time has been moved to 2 p.m. ... The men's basketball team will hold a scrimmage open to the public prior to the game on Saturday at 1 p.m. in Anderson Arena.

Contact Maureen Fulton at:

or 419-724-6160.

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