This section is from the book "A Scientific And Practical Treatise On American Football For Schools And Colleges", by A. Alonzo Stagg, Henry L. Williams. Don't miss: The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game.
This suggests the thought that it is possible to use the side line helpfully when the ball is down very near it and when it is impossible to make any strong plays because of the limitations which must be met in such a situation. At such a time, instead of attempting to make a run out toward the end, or tackle, which will be expected, the play should often be straight forward or on the side toward the boundary line, until the runner is finally pushed over the line and has the privilege of bringing the ball in to a more favorable position from which to operate.
Furthermore, the position near the side line can be made more useful in working tricks than a point nearer the center of the field, for reasons which are evident.
There is no question that kicking the ball has not entered into the tactics of football as largely as its possibilities would warrant. There are many reasons for this. First, there is only here and there a team which has a reliable kicker. Punting and drop kicking are practiced by a few only, and, for the most part, not intelligently and successfully. It is a science with several points of skill to be acquired. Second, many teams have an uncertain punter who does not himself know exactly where the ball will go, whether far down the field or just over the rush line, along the ground or to one side, and so place such little confidence in the value of kicking under so great a risk that they will usually trust to a run, even on the third down, if the distance which they have to gain is not too great. Third, in all but a few leading colleges when the teams are evenly matched, the question of points is largely a question of which side has the ball. The offensive game is much better developed than the defensive game, and it is not infrequent for one team to carry the ball from one end of the field to the other without losing it. Under these circumstances the necessity for kicking is seldom felt, and they would rather take the risk of not gaining the requisite number of yards, than release their right to the ball by an uncertain kick. Fourth, it is a fact that most punters can not kick accurately if forced to punt quickly. They are, therefore, compelled to stand so far back of the rush line that the value of their punt is decreased by several yards, or else they run the risk both of a poor punt and of having it stopped by the opposing rushers who break through the line.
No better proof of the value of a good punter behind the line is needed, than to see a game in which one side is visibly weaker than the other in its power to advance the ball by running, but which, possessing a strong punter, is able to keep its opponents in check. Frequent punts are doubly effective when the opposite side is without a good kicker, or is not accustomed to a kicking game.
The worth of an accurate kicker is magnified very much when there is a wind in his favor. Comparatively few games are played without a wind to help or interfere, according as it is favorable to one side or the other. When the wind is in the favor of one side, they should be able to use it to the greatest advantage. The captain should be alive to its value, and make it a powerful factor in his tactics. It would then be a question whether it would not be wise to kick the ball just as soon as it was secured, provided, of course, it was not so near the opponent's goal that it would be wiser to hold the ball and attempt to rush it over. Certain it is that a side should never fail to kick on the third down except on account of the liability of kicking the ball over the goal line when inside of the twenty-five yard line, or because so close to the goal line that it is worth taking the risk of losing the ball in making a supreme effort to get it over.
When there is danger of the ball being kicked across the goal line a clever punter will usually aim to kick the ball across the side line into the touch as near the goal line as possible. This is intentional and is quite different from the juvenile efforts which do not take the wind or position into account when punting from near the side line and send the ball outside, only a few yards away.
It is sometimes good tactics on the third down, when there is considerable doubt whether the required advance can be made, to have the full-back kick the ball across the side line with no intent perhaps of a gain in ground. While giving the opposing team technically an equal chance, it is wholly with the purpose of having the end-rusher secure the ball, which will be upon the first down. The kick must be well placed, of course, and must not be so much forward that there will be great risk of the opponents securing the ball, and also not so far ahead that the full-back cannot put his men on side easily. The end man on that side must also know of the full-back's intention, and place himself well over toward the side line. Such a kick cannot be attempted safely when the full-back is not able to place his punts with great accuracy. The occasions when the use of such tactics would be wise, might be when the side in possession of the ball was able to make good advances by running but had lost ground, perhaps through a misplay; or when they had the ball inside their opponents' twenty-five yard line and were not in a good position to try a drop kick; or when the risk of making the required gain by running would be too great.
Right here would come in the question of a drop kick on the third down when inside the twenty-five yard line, and in fair position to make the trial. It is safe to say that, in general on the third down, this should be the play called for. It is for the captain to decide whether the trial is worth the making; whether the nearness and angle to the goal, and the quickness and skill of the kicker warrant a drop kick in preference to the chances of making a further advance by running.
If a run is attempted without gain the ball will be down where it is for the other side. When the kick is made on the other hand, there will be a possibility of having the ball stopped by the opposing rushers, and a run made up the field; or, if the goal is missed, the opposing team will be allowed to bring the ball out to the twenty-five yard line.