Lamar gets best 1-yard kickoff return in USF history
Overlooked in the frenzy of the final minute of USF's 23-20 win at Notre Dame on Saturday was the Fighting Irish's onsides kick attempt, which was safely recovered by USF's Lindsey Lamar to seal the Bulls' win.
USF special teams coach Vernon Hargreaves talked about the play Tuesday, and watching the replay of the kick on NBCsports.com shows how close Notre Dame came to getting a real shot at a tying field goal in the final seconds.
Remember, USF had a bitter taste of onsides kicks from the Bulls' last game -- Clemson successfully recovered an onsides kick at the end of the Meineke Car Care Bowl, then scored a quick touchdown to put the Bulls' win in jeopardy. The Tigers' second onsides kick wasn't successful, but only because a Clemson player touched the ball a half-yard before it went the mandatory 10 yards needed to be recovered by the kicking team.
That set up Notre Dame's attempt, after Michael Floyd caught his second touchdown pass with 21 seconds left, cutting what had been a 16-point lead to just three points. Notre Dame lined up Floyd wide at its sideline, and got a great onsides kick from kicker David Ruffer. His kick avoids an initial line of five USF blockers and goes directly to Bulls receiver Victor Marc, but the second bounce kicks high and caroms upward off Marc's helmet. As luck would have it, Floyd is in position to field the kick 17 yards downfield on the sidelines.
But a split-second before the ball gets to Floyd, Lamar (normally USF's deep man on kickoffs) races in front of him and essentially intercepts the ball, much like a cornerback breaking on a pass. Floyd -- one of the best receivers in college football, and a surefire high NFL draft pick next spring -- is 6-foot-3, while Lamar, last year's Big East Special Teams Player of the Year, is listed at 5-foot-9 on USF's roster, so there's a six-inch difference in the two receivers. But Floyd doesn't leave his feet, waiting to catch the ball chest high, and Lamar jumps in and grabs the pass to seal the USF win.
"He took it from him," Hargreaves said.
There's a curious question as to how you place a deep man on a certain onsides kick -- put him too close to the ball, and you risk a well-placed squib that a member of the kicking team may get to first; put him too far back and he might not be a relevant part of the play. If you watch the replay, Lamar is as far back as about 28 yards from the spot of the kick, but as the ball is placed, he moves forward, anticipating the path of the kick.
"We talked during camp about how where the ball is placed determines whether you stay back or whether you come up," Hargreaves said. "He happened to see how the ball was placed and brought himself up. He did a great job of adjusting to put himself in position."
It's credited as a 1-yard kickoff return, which will hurt Lamar's average for the season, but his coaches don't mind.
"I will take that one all day," Hargreaves said.
Also overlooked on that kick -- it's only natural to follow the path of the ball -- is linebacker Mike Jeune leveling a Notre Dame player. "He knocked the dog out of that guy," Hargreaves said.