What is a touchback?

Ok, so we have worked to explain some of the basics of football. The most important part of football is whoever has the ball is always trying to move the ball towards the goal/end zone in order to score points.

So why is it there are times when the guy who receives the ball is content to just put his knee on the ground and stop where he is? Well, there are many times this is the ‘best’ strategy. One of those times is called a touchback.

In simple terms, a touchback happens when there is a change of possession and the team who receives the ball is in the other team’s end zone. This can occur during a kickoff, punt, fumble or interception. The ball (and the player) has to be ruled down in the end zone in order for it to be considered a touchback so the player will often times put his knee on the ground to signal he wants a touchback (if he is not already on the ground as would likely occur on an interception of fumble recovery).

If the touchback occurs during an interception, punt or fumble, the ball moves to the 20 yard line. If it happens during a kick-off, it moves to the 25 yard line. The team who received the ball in these situations is then able to have their offense come on the field and start their drive towards the goal.

So, why ‘take a knee’ instead of running the ball after one of these situations down the field towards the goal? Well, the player has to make a split second decision and ‘guess’ how far he thinks he will make it prior to being tackled. If he thinks he won’t make it 20 yards (or 25 on a kick-off), he is making the best decision for his team to take a knee and the touchback.

what is a touchback in college football

Staff photo by Michael Beswick

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