Photo by Jason Caldwell

StatTiger Column: Analyzing Auburn's Special Teams Performance Under Scott Fountain's Direction

The Auburn football team has had a lot of success in recent seasons with its special teams performances. Stuart Carter breaks down the numbers in his StatTiger column.

Daniel Carlson (above) will be back in 2016 as a junior to kick for the Tigers.

Watching the 2016 national championship football game brought back memories of the outcome of the 2014 national championship game between Auburn and Florida State. Both ended up being close contests primarily separated by critical special teams moments.

Auburn surrendered 17 points to the Seminoles stemming from a fake punt, an Auburn missed field goal and a Florida State kickoff return for a touchdown.

The Clemson Tigers appeared to be building momentum during the second half when they were caught off guard by an Alabama onside kick that resulted in a touchdown. The Crimson Tide later cashed in on a long kick return for a touchdown, giving them a 38-27 lead in the final period. Despite Clemson out-gaining Alabama 31 to 18 first downs, it was Clemson that would come up five points short when the game expired.

The 2016 championship game was full of great plays and athletes, but special teams were the separation needed for Alabama to be victorious.

Three years ago Coach Gus Malzahn made the decision to move Scott Fountain from a personnel director to Auburn’s special teams coach on the field. It was a decision that paid off immediately for the team and continues to be an asset for the Tigers.

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Scott Fountain cordinates special teams and coaches the tight ends/H-backs for the Tigers.

Over the past 20 years special teams account for approximately 30 snaps per game, with nearly 70 percent of those plays being punts or kickoffs. Coach Fountain has placed a strong emphasis on kick and punt coverage during the past three seasons with excellent results. 

Under his leadership Auburn’s national average over the past three seasons in punt return offense is No. 12. When it comes to punt return defense, the national average over the past three seasons has been No. 78. To limit the damage, Fountain has schemed to minimize the opportunities opponents have in returning punts against the Tigers. During the 2013 season, Auburn was No. 1 nationally in allowing the fewest punt returns and were No. 2 this past season in the same category. Great punt coverage becomes a huge asset when you consider that nationally in college football there was a return for a touchdown every 32 punts this past season.

When it comes to kick coverage, Auburn's average national ranking over the past three seasons is No. 8 in allowing the fewest returns. Allowing only 30 percent of their kickoffs to be returned masks Auburn’s national average in yardage per return of No. 90 over the past three seasons. 

Since taking over special teams, Auburn’s return game has improved considerably. Combining all kick and punt returns, Auburn has averaged a touchdown every 29 returns. This includes an average of 23.7 yards per kickoff return and 13.4 yards per punt return.

During the 15 years before 2013, Auburn averaged a touchdown return every 102 returns. From 1998-2012 Auburn averaged 22.4 yards per kick return and 9.0 yards per punt return. Under Fountain’s guidance Auburn was successful on 78 percent of its field goal attempts, significantly higher than the 68 percent average from 1998-2012. Auburn was No. 23 nationally in punt return offense, No. 4 during 2014 and No. 29 this past year.

Regarding individual success, Chris Davis led the SEC in punt return average during 2013 and Quan Bray was No. 1 during the 2014 season. Marcus Davis was No. 5 this past season, improving as the season progressed. Davis averaged only 7.3 yards per return during his first six returns and 14.3 yards during his last nine punt returns.

During the 2015 campaign Rudy Ford was No. 2 in the conference in kick returns. Daniel Carlson was the conference’s most accurate field goal kicker in 2015 after finishing at No. 7 the year before. He is currently 97 of 97 in PATs and finished no lower than No. 2 in the conference in touchback percentage. 

After each game Inside the Auburn Tigers features a statistical report card to grade all three phases of the team. Fountain has been the special teams coach for the last 40 games. During this period the special teams have been the most efficient unit of all three phases.

Auburn’s special teams posted a passing grade in 33 of 40 games followed by the offense with 29 of 40 and the defense finished at 20 of 40. During Auburn’s last 40 games, 15 were decided by seven points or less. Auburn compiled an 11-4 record in those games with special teams having a passing grade in 11 of Auburn’s close ball games. Since 2000 more than a third (37 percent) of Auburn’s games have been decided by seven points or less. Coach Fountain’s success with the special teams will increase the probability in winning highly contested games.

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