Friday, July 10, 2009

And They Shuddered In Fear At The Foot of the Great Space Emperor

Michigan enters the 2009 football season with one dandy punter named Zoltan Mesko. Mesko has been named the Playboy All-American punter. He was an All-Big Ten first team punter in 2008. He's also on the Ray Guy award watchlist for the 2009 season.

Now Michigan has had some good punters over the years. But Mesko's career at Michigan has been interesting in that his personal achievements as a punter have kind of been the inverse of the football team's success. Over the last three seasons, Mesko's punting average and net punting average (punt team coverage) have steadily improved. At the same time, Mr. Mesko's stage appearances certainly have shot up as well over this period reflecting Michigan's rather unimpressive 3rd down success rate under recent offensive coordinators Mike Debord (2006 and 2007) and Calvin Magee (2008):

Michigan Punter Zoltan Mesko       
YearRankPuntsYardsAverage per PuntNet Punting Average3rd Down Conversion %Record

I say unimpressive here because, well, in terms of moving the chains, possessing the football, and keeping opposing defenses on the football field, Michigan has been hovering around 50th place or worse in 3rd down success rate for quite some time now. Michigan football will have "arrived" when this aspect changes considerably.

Now third down success rate doesn't mean teams are torching opponents on third down alone. It's more of a signal as to how successful offenses have been on both 1st and 2nd down during football games. A high 3rd down conversion success rate (i.e. 50%+) likely means that these teams are so potent and effective on 1st and 2nd down, that they're typically facing 3rd and short yardage most of the game. When you think about it for a moment, that's a pretty demoralizing circumstance for opponents to find themselves in.

Nat. RankName3rd-down Attempts3rd-down ConversionsSuccess Rate %WLOffense
1Tulsa19311056.99113Spread Option
2BYU1769855.68103Pass Spread
4Texas Tech1699254.44112Pass Spread
5Missouri1638753.37104Pass Spread
6Penn St.1739052.02112Spread
9Oklahoma19710151.27122Pass Spread
10Rice1809251.11103Spread Option

If Michigan's 3rd down success rate does improve this year, then I think Mr. Mesko's punting excellence will probably become even more meaningful for Michigan in the win column, as it has proven to be for the teams noted above.

Now look, I love the idea of Zoltan Mesko, Spacegod and Destroyer of Worlds, heading out onto the Michigan Stadium Fieldturf and "demoralizing opponents" with 45+ yard punts. That's cool enough.

I'm personally very impressed with Zoltan Mesko's work ethic on and off the field (Academic All-American going after his MBA), and his improvement punting over the last 3 years. I really hope he beats his 2008 punting average this fall, takes home the Ray Guy award and spends lots of time with Hugh Hefner at the Playboy mansion when the season is over.

But dammit, he punted the football 83 freaking times for Michigan last year! Eighty-three!!!!

I mean, what if instead we had seen K.C. Lopata kicking half that amount in PATs and field goals?

This fall I want to see Zoltan Mesko on the field a lot less frequently. But when I do see him, I hope he continues to terrify opposing coaches with his omnipotent left leg.

All Hail Zoltan, Space Emperor and Destroyer of Worlds!

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