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Season in Review: James Smith

That’s right, we’re talking about punting.

Cincinnati v South Florida Photo by Joseph Garnett Jr. /Getty Images

The Numbers

  • 64 punts
  • 42 yards per punt
  • 21 inside the 20-yard line
  • 9 punts of at least 50 yards

If it was up to every college football team, there would be no need for punting. Your offense would score every time it got the ball and never be forced into fourth down situations. But that’s not how football works, so punts happen. They happen a lot when your team goes 4-8 and has an offense that scores fewer points than anyone else in its conference. That’s the situation the Cincinnati Bearcats found themselves in during 2017, but James Smith made sure punting was, if not a must-watch part of the game, at least not a painful one.

A freshman from Wangaratta, Australia, Smith was one of the most consistent and effective Bearcats on the roster. He averaged a respectable 42 yards per punt, which ranked fourth in the American Athletic Conference. However, nobody in the league got as much work as Smith, who booted the ball an AAC-most 64 times for 2,688 yards. With 5.3 punts per game, Smith had at least five punting chances in eight of 12 games. He also had nine kicks of at least 50 yards, including a season-long of 65 yards against East Carolina. He managed to have some strategic placement with kicks as well, pinning opponents inside their own 20 nine times. He did it at least once in all but three games and did it three times in five contests.

In addition, he was able to launch kicks quickly and at a high enough trajectory that the Bearcats were never in fear that they were about to gift opponents with a turnover and great field position. The blockers in front of him obviously deserve credit as well, but Smith did his job pretty much flawlessly. For all his work, Smith was the only Bearcat to be named to the all-AAC first team.

The Best of the Best

Sept. 9 at Michigan

Best is relative here, obviously, since its not great that Smith punted 10 times in this game. He also only averaged 37.3 yards per kick, but he did land three inside Michigan’s 20-yard line.

Oct. 7 vs. UCF

This was a lighter workday than usual for Smith, who only punted four times. However, he averaged 45.5 yards per kick thanks to a 53-yard missile and two that forced the Knights to start inside their own 20.

Nov. 18 at East Carolina

This was Smith’s best game of the season. He averaged a personal best 52.67 yards per punt, including a campaign-best kick of 65 yards. He also had three kicks of at least 50 yards and three land on the right side of the 20.

For Next Year

Smith was a first-team all-conference punter as a freshman. It’s tough to really say there’s anything he needs to do better. Instead, let’s hope we don’t need to see him as often and the UC offense is able to be more effective, saving Smith’s skills for more critical (and rare) situations.