With Little Pressure, New Placekickers Can Relax

By Nicholas Jervey on June 7, 2014 at 6:00a
There won't be quite this much pressure on kickers this year... hopefully.

Ohio State University Photo

21 Comments

In the scarlet corner: Kyle Clinton! In the gray corner: Sean Nuernberger! The stakes: actually, not a whole lot.

As conventional wisdom goes, there's no more pressure-packed role on a football team than as a placekicker. Most of the time, kickers hit a similar percentage of field goals, and the difference between an good kicker and a bad kicker over the course of a season may be four or five field goals. But oh, what a difference those field goals may hold.

For that reason, people around Columbus are getting a little testy about the kicking situation. Drew Basil had a solid senior campaign, converting 10 of 11 field goals and 77 of 79 PATs. The two athletes competing for his spot, senior Kyle Clinton and freshman Sean Nuernberger, have next to no experience at the college level. In January, our own Michael Citro emphasized that no matter how they perform in practice, they'll have a hard time replacing Basil because the pressure they'll face in a game is a whole other beast.

Unlike Citro, I have confidence both rational and irrational that Clinton and Nuernberger's inexperience won't hurt the kicking game at large. As frightening as a hypothetical of a greenhorn kicker needing to make a 50-yard field goal in front of 105,000 screaming fans sounds, it's not going to happen. It's been decades since Ohio State lost a game on a missed field goal, and the Buckeyes have only hit game-winning field goals twice since 2000. 

As for the irrational confidence, it has everything to do with OSU's history of competent-to-great kickers. Based on that recent history alone, I expect Clinton to shine. Why should this year be any different?

Over the years, Ohio State has been blessed with quality kickers. As far back as 1974, a Buckeye kicker has had a heroic performance for his team: against Michigan that year, Tom Klaban made four field goals to win the game 12-10. As apocrypha has it, Woody Hayes announced on the following day's Woody Hayes Show that he had awarded Klaban a scholarship for his efforts.

The last 15 years of placekicker excellence has spoiled us; from Dan Stultz to Mike Nugent, Josh Huston to Ryan Pretorius, and Devin Barclay to Drew Basil, having a good kicker is something fans take for granted in Columbus. Somehow, it just feels like that past success would have rubbed off on Kyle Clinton.

With Sean Nuernberger, there's even more reason to feel good about the kicking game. As a true freshman he has a strong leg, he makes good contact on kicks, and his mechanics are all there. Even the concerns about him in his Better Know a Buckeye entry aren't that bad:

Nuernberger is already on campus, which allows for some preliminary evaluations. In just a few months on campus, he already seems a bit shaky on attempts beyond 40 yards. If he is going to start as a true freshman, we need him to move beyond freshman jitters at a higher level of football.

Fortunately for him, Tom Herman's aggressive playcalling circumvents situations where Nuernberger would have to hit 40+ yard field goals. If Ohio State gets into a 4th and 4 from the 30-yard line, the coaches won't even blink before dialing up a fourth down play for the offense.

Not all teams have that luxury. In 2010, Michigan was hampered by flat-out awful kicking. Our frenemies at MGoBlog charted their kickers' failure and came to the conclusion that not only was Michigan losing points on the missed kicks, their ineptitude forced the coaches to be more aggressive on fourth down than the standard percentages would dictate. 

No, the real reason I'm confident about the kicking game is Ohio State's well-oiled, ass-kicking machine of an offense. What the above-mentioned MGoCharts show is that kicking competence and offensive competence goes both ways; poor kicking can influence offensive decision making, but good offense can render poor field goal kicking moot.

Basil attempted 11 field goals last year. Only one of them (against Iowa, up 31-24 with 5:50 remaining) qualifies as a pressure situation. It won't matter if Clinton and Nuernberger are shaky; even if they miss every field goal that Basil took last year, they wouldn't cost OSU a game.

Gone are the days of Mike Nugent being the team offensive MVP, blasting 55-yard field goals to beat Marshall and dragging his team to a road win against N.C. State. In seven games last year,Basil didn't even enter as a placekicker. With a quick pace, Ohio State will play lower variance games, meaning that individual field goals won't mean all that much anyway.

Sure, the offense will miss Carlos Hyde's ability to keep plays moving. With Braxton Miller's enormous skills and a wide receiver corps that finally ought to escape average play, there shouldn't be much of a dropoff in red zone touchdown percentage. We're not really worried about the kickers hitting 35-yarders, are we?

Whoever wins placekicking duties between Kyle Clinton and Sean Nuernberger, he is virtually guaranteed to have little impact on the offense's overall strength. If Nuernberger wins the job and succeeds, we won't have to worry about the kicking game until 2018.

So if you see he or Clinton drinking virgin mojitos on the sidelines this fall, don't criticize them; they're on a team that can afford to have no placekickers at all. That's living the dream.

21 Comments

Comments

TMac's picture

Alabama will attest to the fact that the kicker is quite important, sometimes he just needs a little more leg. 

+8 HS
Knarcisi's picture

Or the ability to tackle ... LOL 

+8 HS
James Mee's picture

Or you could have a coach that trusts his Senior QB more than his failing kicking game. 

JohnnyKozmo's picture

Or a coach who knows when to keep his mouth shut and go to OT instead of begging for another second

+1 HS
DannyBeane's picture

Somewhere out there, Jim Tressel is angrily shaking his head.

+13 HS
BroJim's picture

Your point of view is concerning.

I season my simple food with hunger

+2 HS
Oakland Buckeye's picture

2018??? His point of view is naive & misguided.

WesPatterson23's picture

Nuernberger looked like a heck of a kicker during the spring game. I think he thrives under pressure

lsjSnail's picture

All his kicks looked like pooches. Very impressed.

-1 HS
buckguyfan1's picture

Here's to hoping it rarely comes down to that.  

BoFuquel's picture

The field goal is in reality a defensive play, once kicked you no longer possess the ball, and our defense still has a lot to prove . GO BUCKS!

I wish I didn't know now what I didn't know then.

seafus26's picture

I beg to differ. A missed field goal in a game that momentum still hasn't been determined can shift into the defense that just held favor. We have the ability to look in hind sight of how games turned out last year. I'm glad they didn't, but what if we didn't cap a drive early in one of those games with points and the other team came away pumped? I feel the kicker is far more valuable than you're giving credit. I feel high deep kicks allowing piranhas to get down field and pin returner to side line is key, too.

Go Bucks and michigan STILL SUCKS!

+2 HS
hetuck's picture

I agree with your kickoff point. The change in the rules has increased kick returns, not diminished them. From my limited perspective, OSU has been a leader in strategy of how to pin the returner short of the 25 yard line. 

As to kicker importance, think back to the 2002 NC game. Nuge missed one plus a failed fake instead of a chip shot sure thing. Miami's kicker barely made his kick to put the game into overtime. I remember Wilhelm saying he got a finger on it. 

Nuernberger was a clear winner in the spring game. His showing in the race for the fastest man on campus was lacking, but he wasn't recruited for speed. 

Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.

Vince Lombardi

+1 HS
BeijingBucks's picture
Pirahnas!

 

 

 

None can love freedom heartily, but good men; the rest love not freedom, but license. ~ John Milton

+4 HS
BeijingBucks's picture

you down vote a piranhas reference?  perhaps too esoteric for you.  shrug

 

 

None can love freedom heartily, but good men; the rest love not freedom, but license. ~ John Milton

-1 HS
hetuck's picture

Coombs had bigger players on the kickoff team last year; hence, sharks. Cue the Jaws movie poster. BTW, he will have a plethora of big, fast players to choose from this year. Warren Ball, you want on the field? How about you Tre Johnson, Raekwon, et al?

Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.

Vince Lombardi

buckeyepastor's picture

I applaud you for successfully getting people engaged with this article.  It's tough sometimes in the off-season lull to offer things that get people reading.   Clearly, a person claiming that having a good placekicker isn't really that big of a deal for us gets the attention of others.   Maybe we have only had two games since 2000 that ended on field goals (one being the famous Iowa game from a a few several years back, the other an OT thriller against Purdue in 2003), but my GOD, we just spent the better part of a decade in an offense that seemed at times to play for the field goal over a TD.  Meyer has instilled the philosophy of expecting to get the ball into the end zone and not through the uprights but it's damn hard to win a conference, much less a national title, without solid kicking and special teams.   If a lack of game-winners have you thinking that field goals aren't important, consider the inverse side - how much energy and importance OSU places on blocking punts and field goals.  
 

"Woody would have wanted it that way" 

+2 HS
BeijingBucks's picture

With an Aussie punter jacking shrimps on the Barbie inside the 20 on a regular basis... was I the only one that actually looked forward to an occasional punt just to see what he could do?  But Field Goals?  I remember Hyde saying once something along the lines of, "We don't kick field goals... gimme the damn rock"! (actually that may have been an overstuffed crust pizza induced meat sweat dream dialogue)

I can understand why place kickers might avoid tOSU as there is a certain point when they are scoring enough to wear out the poor kids leg and ruin their hopes of a cushy NFL career.

Besides the coaching is notoriously hard on the kickers and doesn't even let them drink water between warm ups...

 

 

None can love freedom heartily, but good men; the rest love not freedom, but license. ~ John Milton

+1 HS
Buckeyeneer's picture

I don't remember Dan Stultz being that good but he was one of the most fired up players I've ever seen coming out of the tunnel and on the sidelines.

"Because the rules won't let you go for three." - Woody Hayes
THE Ohio State University

MikeNugents BigToe's picture

I live for articles like this. Long live Mike Nugent!

"Remember that 55 yarder against Marshall?" -Not Mike Nugent

CentralFloridaBuckeye's picture

I think we're in good shape in the kicking dept this year.  Nuremberg will end up be a great addition to a long line of all time great Buckeye kickers!

Go Bucks!!