Auburn strikingly ranks dead last in Division I FBS in one standout category.
The Tigers are giving up 35.8 yards per return on punt coverage so far this season, giving up 179 yards there on five returns over two games.
Auburn’s adjusting with head coach Gus Malzahn calling for punter Arryn Siposs to kick his punts higher and to give the Auburn coverage team more time to get to the opposing return man.
Oregon’s punt returner Jevon Holland gashed Auburn for punt returns of 81, 29 and 21 yards, before Tulane’s returner Amare Jones hit the Tigers with returns of 36 and 12 yards last week.
“I mean, obviously, the last two weeks haven’t been ideal from a punting perspective,” Auburn punter Arryn Siposs said Tuesday. The former Australian-rules football pro from Melbourne is in a bit of a peculiar spot. Booting it farther isn’t always for the best, because out-kicking the coverage team can put athletes like Holland and Jones in space and give them time to work around the Auburn punt gunners.
“Obviously we’re looking to get better hang time consistently with that,” Siposs said. “Hopefully that will put us in the right direction going forward.”
Siposs punted six times against Oregon. Holland returned the first three for big gains, and the Tigers forced fair catches on the other three.
Against Tulane, Siposs punted six times again. One punt was downed by the coverage team, and three fair catches were forced, but two returns went for sizable gains.
“A lot of it has to do with, we have to kick that thing higher,” Malzahn said Tuesday. “The height has to match up with the distance. We’re focusing really hard on that — and we continue to focus on our coverage unit, too.”
There’s no question that Siposs has a booming leg. His task now is to adjust his trajectory while Auburn gets these coverage units figured out.
Auburn was bailed out on Oregon’s two biggest punt returns. After Holland’s 29-yard punt return in the first quarter of the season opener, the Ducks missed a close field goal inside the red zone. In the second quarter, Holland’s 81-yard return put the Ducks in the red zone, but Oregon fumbled the ball away.
Holland’s 21-yard return early in the third quarter to near midfield did help set up a Ducks scoring drive.
For now, the Auburn coaches weighing risk and reward probably wouldn’t mind the punts being a handful of yards shorter so long as the height and hang time allows the coverage team to get to the returner and eliminate the risk of those big returns.
“I’m obviously trying to work on getting that distance consistently because that’s what we want to do, but giving the coverage an opportunity to go out there and get fair catches and put pressure on their returner is certainly something we want to focus on,” Siposs said. “That includes me being able to produce better hang time, for us to be able to do that.”