Nebraska Football: Kicking Game Could Cost Cornhuskers Wins Next Season

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Nebraska Football: Kicking Game Could Cost Cornhuskers Wins Next Season
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Nebraska football fans watching the spring game last month saw all kinds of promise on both sides of the ball. But they also had to avert their eyes to the grease fire that was Nebraska’s place-kicker performance.

Sure, there wasn’t a lot to see, only six extra points. Grant Schumacher was 2-2 on those extra points, and Spencer Lindsay was 1-1. But with all due respect to Schumacher and Lindsay, those guys are not going to be seeing the field next year absent an emergency.

Mauro Bondi, the scholarship kicker, was 1-3. As in 33 percent. On extra points. You know, the ones from the 2-yard line that are so automatic the NFL is considering abandoning them altogether because they are so routine.

But that was just the spring game, you might say in response, one practice out of 15. We shouldn’t overreact to any one performance, even on a stage like that.

Nati Harnik/Associated Press

A fair point, certainly, one that has been made frequently about quarterback Tommy Armstrong’s less-than-stellar spring game performance. But there is more data than just the spring game to make one question the status of Nebraska’s placekicking game.

Bondi’s performance as a place-kicker when the games count is far from reassuring. Bondi has made his only field-goal attempt and is 8-9 in his career for extra points. Or, put another way, Bondi is 88.9 percent on extra points, which would have been good for No. 122 nationally in that category (courtesy of cfbstats.com).

Indeed, last year Nebraska had to bring on Pat Smith, a transfer from Western Illinois, because the coaching staff had such little faith in Bondi’s ability to put the ball through the uprights. Smith beat Bondi out for the place-kicking duties and had a respectable 2013 campaign, going 12-13 on field goals, including the game-winner against Penn State.

Smith is gone, though, leaving only Bondi, Schumacher and Lindsay on the roster. Nebraska does have a true freshman kicker in Drew Brown arriving in the 2014 class. Brown, the younger brother of former Nebraska kicker Kris Brown, looks to be in line to at least compete for the starting job as place-kicker this season.

While it is good that Nebraska at least has another option, asking a true freshman to come in and be the place-kicker on a team that hopes to contend for a conference title is a big ask indeed. Nebraska has road games this year against Michigan State, Northwestern, Iowa and Wisconsin. All of those games look to be tough, and any one of them could be decided by a long field goal in difficult conditions with a hostile crowd roaring. Nebraska looks to be pinning its hopes for winning a tight game in those conditions on a kid who will be less than a year away from his high school prom.

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And it’s not just those dramatic walk-off kicks that are affected. Having a reliable kicker who will put points on the board is such an advantage, both tactically and psychologically.

Tactically, knowing your kicker is likely to convert shortens the scoring field, making an offense need to take fewer risks—and thus be less likely to commit turnovers. Psychologically, converting on scoring opportunities relieves pressure on a defense, allowing them to play knowing they don’t have to pitch a shutout for Nebraska to be successful. Also, more points are better than fewer because, duh.

Let’s be clear on one thing. Bondi, like Adi Kunalic before him, is a top-flight kickoff specialist, and the value that brings to a team should not be ignored. But all the evidence before us suggests Bondi is not the answer as a reliable place-kicker and that Nebraska will have to hope a true freshman can arrive on campus this fall and fill those shoes.

A smart and particularly handsome analyst referred to Nebraska as “Kicker U” for its history of producing great place-kickers. Nebraska seems to be in a lull right now in kicker production, and that lull could cost NU dearly in 2014.

 

If you'd like to contact Patrick, send an email to patrickrunge@gmail.com.

Or you could also always use the Twitter machine to follow @patrickrunge

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