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When it comes to punting, Tulane’s Willie Fritz plays it safe... sometimes too safe

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Since arriving with the Wave in 2016, Willie Fritz has drawn up exactly 202 punts and with that many, there’s bound to be a few head-scratchers.

Tulane v Oklahoma Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images

We here at Underdog Dynasty are just like any other college football fans. We enjoy hard-fought, gritty games on Saturdays and cling onto any nibbles of the gridiron we can get during the offseason. Believe me, June and July are just as excruciating for us as they are for you.

Some of us dive into podcasts while others compose compelling feature stories about our teams. The result of all this football-less boredom manifests itself in many ways. But some of us have more absurd ideas than others to pass the time. One such example would be the researching of every punting play a coach has run with a program for the mere sake of seeing which ones were bad. Ladies and gentleman, this is where I’m at with my offseason yearning for football.

Earlier this year, SB Nation’s Jon Bois put out an incredibly fascinating video that delved into the decision making when it came to punting the football. He took every... yes every... NFL punt that has occurred in the 21st century and essentially gave it a “sadness” score based on a variety of factors. He dubbed this new way of looking at punts the “surrender index”.

Naturally, the idea fascinated me and being our site’s Tulane beat writer I thought “why not put Willie Fritz and Tulane through this little formula?” After all, from watching the team closely I know for a fact that a few of the Wave’s 4th down decisions lately have been questionable to say the least. But just how questionable? Well, I went ahead and found out.

Enjoy the fruits of my seemingly meaningless labor...

How it Works

Bois explains this in much more depth so I’ll just give you the crash course. Each punting play is given a numerical value based on four different factors; field position, distance to a first down, time left in the game and of course the score at the time of the punt. The formula below gives us the “surrender index score” for any particular punt.

Field position base score x distance deduction x game score multiplier x time elapsed multiplier = surrender index score.

These four variables are determined by a set of values Bois details in his video. I would highly recommend you watch it here, then come back (skip to 19:30 to get right to the details). He explains it much more eloquently than I could, but I’ll give it a shot regardless.

Field Position: This is the base score we use in the formula. If the ball is punted from anywhere between a team’s own 1 and 40-yard line, the base we use is simply 1. After that, the number increases by 10% for every yard past the 40. After midfield, though, that amps up to a 20% increase per yard. For instance, the 41-yard line would yield a 1.1, the 42 a 1.21 and so on.

Distance Deduction: The distance to go for a first down also factors in. Punting on 4th and a mile makes much more sense than 4th and inches. So, if the team needs 10 or more yards for the first, we take 80% off (or multiply by 0.20). Anything between 9-7 yards to go is a 60% deduction, 6-4 is a 40%, 3-2 is a 20% and 1 or less is no deduction at all.

Game Score: It’s pretty straightforward here as well. If the team is winning at the time of the punt, we merely multiply by 1. If the game is tied, we multiply by 2. However, if they are trailing by one score we increase that multiplier to 4. Anything beyond one a single-score deficit results in a multiplier of 3. Simply put, you shouldn’t be punting if you’re down on the scoreboard.

Time Remaining: This is where the formula can get wonky. First off, this multiplier only applies if the team is losing or tied at the time of the punt AND it occurs in the second half. Otherwise we omit this fourth factor. If a punt does reach both of those requirements, however, we use the following formula: [(Y x 0.001)^3 + 1] where Y is the total seconds elapsed since halftime. Whatever number pops out of this equation is our fourth and final multiplier.

Now that everything is clear, let’s dive into this thing as it applies to Willie Fritz and Tulane.

Fritz’s Ten Most Frustrating Punts

Bob Wiedenhoeft, another SB Nation writer for Bucky’s 5th Quarter covering Wisconsin, conducted a similar study and rates the surrender index scores as follows...

Bob Wiedenhoeft’s breakdown of the surrender index scores.

For simplicity’s sake, we’ll keep it the same here. As I’m sure you’ve gathered by now, the higher the surrender score, the more frustrating the punt. For some perspective, the average score that a Tulane punt receives with Fritz calling the shots is a modest 4.77. That sits just inside the “debatable” range but is still quite understandable in the grand scheme of things.

While most of Fritz’s punting decisions are buy and large quite agreeable, some left fans in brow-furrowing anger. Naturally, that’s what we really want to look at here. Nobody cares about a run-of-the-mill punt at the 10 yard line on 4th and forever. No, we want to see the really bad ones that damn well may have come at the cost of a win.

Without further ado, I give you the top ten most hair-pulling and fist-clenching punts of Fritz’s three-year tenure with the Green Wave...

Yikes. Some of those are real dandies. Take a closer peek, however, and you might notice some fascinating trends that are perhaps even more puzzling. Like that five of those ten punts come from the same two games. Or the fact that not a one of these punts came from anywhere beyond the opponent’s 45. Let’s take a closer look at each one of them and try to determine just what was going through Fritz’s head if we can.

A Closer Look

#10 - 2018 vs. Wake Forest: As you read on you’ll see that last year’s season-opener against the Demon Deacons was a nightmare as far as punting as was concerned. Green Wave punter Zachary Block was called upon nine times to boot the ball away, but that wasn’t necessarily the most irritating part of the night. Six of those punts came well within Wake Forest territory and our lists first spot was just one of the many.

Instead of opting to go for it on 4th and 4 from the Deacs 38, Fritz decided to have Block kick it back while all tied up at 0-0. Now, if there’s one redeeming factor with this one it’s that it was only in the first quarter. Maybe Fritz just wanted to get his defense back on the field and try to regroup the struggling offense.

That being said, Tulane would end up losing by six to the Deacons. so you never know what gambling in this early spot might have done long-term.

Wake Forest v Tulane Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

#9 - 2016 @ UMass: The 2016 bout with the Minutemen was the other game that made multiple appearances on this list because it was a real punting fiasco. Although this particular one comes it at #9, I would make the argument that it’s one of the worst that Fritz has dialed up with the Wave.

Imagine this, your team is on the opponent’s 28 yard line and they’re up by 10 in the fourth. Facing a long 4th and 14 so it’s prime opportunity to tack on a field goal and extend that lead right? Not if you’re Tulane in this particular game.

That’s right, Fritz actually had the team punt from here. It would have been a 45-yard field goal, a distance that kicker Andrew DiRocco had proven he could hit from. For whatever reason, they passed up on the points and felt it safer to punt away. Keep in mind this decision came on the heels of a 12-play drive that had lasted nearly eight minutes.

On the ensuing possession, UMass took the ball down and got a field goal of their own, so it’s not like it really prevented any scoring either. Thankfully Tulane still won the game but this one is pretty unforgivable.

#8 - 2018 @ Cincinnati: It just seems like common sense that you take more risks when you’re down by more than one score in the fourth quarter. Trailing by 16 with 11:21 left in Cincinnati last year, the game wasn’t quite out of reach for Tulane yet but they definitely needed to roll the dice and... you guessed it, they didn’t.

The punting unit came out on 4th down well in Bearcats territory and gave the ball back. Cincy would go on to win by that 16-point margin and it certainly seemed as though Fritz and company had prematurely waved the white flag.

#7 - 2017 @ Oklahoma: A team like the Wave needs to take as many unconventional chances as possible against a club like the Sooners, especially on the road. Plus, once you’re already trailing by 35 and it’s pretty clear that you’re going to lose anyways, why not at least try and do something savvy?

Apparently there was no good reason to in 2017, even on the OU side of the field. Block came out and kicked it back to the Sooners who promptly marched right back down the field to added yet another touchdown to their already massive lead. The punt was a microcosm of how the day had gone and the Greenies fizzled out with a whimper.

#6 - 2016 @ Wake Forest: Not to be confused with the 2018 rematch with the Decons, the 2016 contest featured some debatable decision making as well. Down by just four at the Wake 42, Fritz had his team kick the ball away instead of trying to pick up the 4th and 4.

Granted, it was still the third quarter but seeing as Tulane went on to lose by just four, it makes us really second guess that call.

#5 - 2018 @ Ohio State: It was almost the exact same situation as the Green Wave had found itself in back in Norman a year earlier. Playing a P5 squad on the road and trailing big should have been the green light to cut loose and let it rip on fourth. Once again, though, Fritz didn’t see it this way.

Tulane v Ohio State Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

On the OSU 36, Tulane chose the punt instead and thing played about you’d expect. The Buckeyes took it deep down into Tulane territory, bled nearly 7 minutes off the fourth quarter clock and won 42-6. In hindsight, it’s not like going for it there would have made much of a difference but still, it would have been nice to at least try and be aggressive.

#4 - 2018 vs. Wake Forest: Like I said earlier, Zach Block got too much face-time in this game. This situation was especially painful though. Down by a mere three points early in the fourth quarter and inside the Wake Forest 40, Tulane had a prime opportunity to swing fortunes back in their favor.

Block instead booted the ball downfield and Fritz relied on his defense to do the job. Had they taken a chance, though, maybe the Wave offense could have expanded their lead and prevented OT and the loss altogether. And the poor faithful at Yulman Stadium had to witness this firsthand.

#3 - 2017 vs. South Florida: Making less-than-ideal punting choices is bad enough against a team like Wake Forest but to do it against a conference foe is downright horrid sometimes. This was the case for Tulane against AAC-rival USF in 2017.

While hosting the Bulls, the Wave found themselves down by only a touchdown early in the second quarter, a sight that was surprising to most. With the ball at the opposite 32, it would have been the perfect time to retain that unexpected momentum.

However, Fritz had his quarterback of all people punt it from here. Jonathan Banks issued the rare QB boot and gave the ball back to the Bulls who would eventually win by one score Costly to say the least.

#2 - 2018 vs. Wake Forest: At this point I can’t really describe the dreadful decision-making of this game to you any more than I already have. Let’s just get into the worst one that Thursday night last fall presented us with.

There was just 40 ticks of the clock left when Fritz drew up this bad boy. From their opponent’s 38, the Wave punted it away basically saying “we want overtime” instead of going for broke. Sure, it was 4th and 12 and a mishap there could have put the Deacs that much closer to field goal range but regardless, this is why season openers don’t go against your conference record. Take a chance and go for it Willie!

#1 - 2016 @ UMass: Here we are. The worst of the worst of Fritz’s time in Tulane (so far). Brace yourselves because this one is damn pitiful.

Louisiana Lafayette v Tulane Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

From the Minutemen 34, on 4th and 8, down by four the Wave punted it away. I don’t care that it was in the second quarter and I don’t care that Tulane ultimately won the game. You are down by not even a touchdown, on the road, deep in enemy territory. If you screw it up you still have a whole half and then some to fix it. You have no business punting here.

This punt deserves every bit of the 76.72 surrender score it received. Let’s just be glad it’s buried in the past of three years ago.

Okay, I’ll admit I may ragging on Fritz a tad too much here and let’s not get things misconstrued. I think he is the best thing to happen to Tulane football in a long time. All I’m saying is that maybe sometimes he shouldn’t play it so close to the vest. If nothing else, going for it on fourth tells the other team that you mean business. Even if you come up empty-handed, you still force them to keep an eye out.

As they say, though, hindsight is 20/20. All in all, punting is the right decision probably 95% of the time. Once the 2019 campaign comes to a close, we’ll take a look back at this and see if Fritz has served up another punt worthy of cracking this list.

For the sake of all Green Wave fans, let’s hope he doesn’t.