Kickers are missing the point

Northwestern, Louisiana State are among the teams to fall because of missed kicks.

Ben Goessling

Rhys Lloyd saw the highlights of Northwestern’s Brian Huffman sending five field goals every which way in a 48-45 loss to Texas Christian – wide of the uprights, into the goalposts, and off the back of his offensive line – and merely chalked it up to first-week jitters.

Then Oregon State kicker Alexis Serna missed three extra points, allowing defending co-national champion Louisiana State to escape with a 22-21 win in its season opener.

The Tigers lost two weeks later to Auburn when their own kicker, Ryan Gaudet, shanked a PAT.

And Michigan surviving an upset bid when San Diego State’s Garrett Palmer missed two fourth-quarter field goals last weekend.

Now, Minnesota’s football team’s kicker said he doesn’t know what to make of it anymore. He just hopes it doesn’t happen to him, he said.

“It’s been really weird lately,” he said. “So far, it hasn’t come to me yet, but you never know.”

Shhh, Lloyd, don’t say that. You might spook the coach. For his part, Glen Mason doesn’t even want to think about it.

“I’m superstitious. I’m not going to address it,” he said. “But thanks for asking, anyway.”

The recent outbreak of kicker-induced insomnia hasn’t reached Mason yet, but plenty of coaches around the country said they are at a loss to explain why their kickers are going cold.

“If I had all the answers, our guy wouldn’t have missed two field goals and yanked a PAT (last weekend against Notre Dame),” Michigan State coach John L. Smith said. “We try to put our kickers in pressure situations as much as we can in practice, but I don’t know why the better guys are missing.”

Lloyd missed two field goals last weekend against Colorado State and had an extra point blocked against Illinois State. For the most part, however, he’s been a godsend for a team that was running ads in the Daily for kickers during the spring of 2003.

The Dover, England, native, who hit game-winners against Wisconsin and Oregon last year, credits his soccer background for helping him deal with kicking in the face of a heavy rush – something he says many new college kickers struggle with.

“Everything’s becoming a lot quicker off the ball,” he said. “I can adjust to the ball if it’s put down in a different spot. Some of the new guys we had coming in took a while to get acclimated.”

In prep football, some kickers can use a tee on field goals and most usually aren’t asked to hit from more than 40 yards.

So, when they get to college, the adjustment period is even longer than for some every-down players.

It’s more like the switch an 8-year-old has to make when he graduates from bumper bowling to the real thing.

“I think a lot of kids think they have to get in the weight room and all that,” Lloyd said. “It’s always technique for me. You hit the sweet spot on the ball, whether you’re swinging full-speed or not, you’ll hit it about the same distance.”

Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez, who had a run of excellent kickers in the 1990s, said he won’t offer kickers scholarships straight out of high school anymore.

Alvarez said environment doesn’t cut it in terms of readying a kicker for college.

“It’s a huge transition to go from a tee to kicking off the ground,” he said. “You can cultivate walk-ons, but when that scholarship player doesn’t pan out, it can backfire.”

And for all the talk about Purdue’s Kyle Orton standing out as the one experienced quarterback in the Big Ten, it might be Ohio State that holds the trump card with a seasoned kicker.

Senior Mike Nugent, the national leader in field-goal percentage, hit a 55-yarder to beat Marshall two weeks ago, and drilled five field goals in a 22-14 win over N.C. State last week.

As for seventh-ranked Ohio State, which has won 14 games by a touchdown or less since 2002, it’s good to have Nugent.

“We keep saying he might be the best kicker in the country,” Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel said. “He did a great job coming through when we needed him.”

One fan even wrote to ESPN.com, touting the kicker as a Heisman candidate.

It’s easy to start thinking Nugent walks on water. Especially when he seems like the only kicker in the country whose legs even work.