Tim Jefferson’s punting ability has given the Air Force coaching staff an effective new option on fourth down.
Jefferson practiced punting throughout August, and it looked like a decent gadget play. Now it is a big part of the playbook.
Jefferson punted three times against TCU, and eight times this season. Six of those punts have been downed inside the 20-yard line. Jefferson’s average is 46.6 yards per punt, which would rank fifth in the nation if he had enough attempts to qualify.
Opponents don’t know how to react when Jefferson is in a shotgun formation on fourth down.
If a team drops a punt returner deep, Air Force could run a normal play and battle 11 on 10.
TCU kept its defense on the field for all three of Jefferson’s punts — and because there was nobody deep, Jefferson’s line-drive punts kept rolling.
“Most of those times it was fourth and 1,” TCU coach Gary Patterson said. “I wasn’t going to take a chance.”
The threat of Jefferson punting can limit one of the opponent’s best players.
TCU punt returner Jeremy Kerley, an elite returner, was on the sideline for Jefferson’s three punts last week. Utah’s Shaky Smithson averages an astounding 23.3 yards per punt return with two touchdowns this season.
Air Force plays the Utes this week, and they have to make a decision: Keep one of their best playmakers on the sideline on fourth down, or risk Jefferson calling an audible at the line and running a play.
The latter happened against Wyoming. Calhoun said when the Cowboys dropped a player deep, Jefferson checked off at the line.
“We were able to run, convert it and go and score a touchdown,” Calhoun said.
Teams are well aware that Calhoun isn’t bluffing. Last season, no team in the nation went for it on fourth down more often than Air Force.
Jefferson might have punted some last year too, but he hurt his knee early in the season opener. He’s having a lot of fun kicking the ball this year.
“I like it a lot,” Jefferson said. “I’ve done it all my life going back to rec ball when I was 8 years old. It comes naturally to me.”
Every time Utah leaves the talented Smithson on the sideline this week as Jefferson lines up in the shotgun in fourth down, that’s an advantage for Air Force.
“It’s a nice wrinkle they’ve added,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “We’ll try to have an answer. We’re still looking at it and deciding what the best alternatives are.”