Kicking: The Forgotten Piece to the Notre Dame Puzzle

Dan BrunerContributor IJune 25, 2009

LOS ANGELES - NOVEMBER 27:  The USC Trojans attempt to block a field goal from kicker D.J. Fitzpatrick #19 the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on November 27, 2004 at the Los Angeles Coliseum in Los Angeles, California. USC won 41-10.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

8-4...sounds a lot better than 6-6, doesn't it? 8-4 would have been Notre Dame's regular-season record had they been able to connect on a few key field goals. 8-4 probably would have sent the Irish to the Gator Bowl instead of Hawaii.

The kicking game is a funny thing, and it's tough to predict how it will determine the outcome of a game. A simple field goal can swing the momentum of a game in a big way.

The two particular games where Irish kicking had the biggest negative impact were home games against Pittsburgh and Syracuse. In the Pittsburgh game, Notre Dame kicker Brandon Walker missed a 38 yarder in the fourth overtime, allowing the Panthers to escape from Notre Dame stadium with a victory.

In Walker's defense, he was 4-5 in the game and you can't expect to win overtime games if you constantly have to settle for field goals.

In the Syracuse game, Notre Dame lost 24-23 at home to an abysmal team. Walker was a terrible 3-6 in this game with misses from 26, 49, and 53 yards. Any one of these FG attempts would have allowed the Irish to escape with a win. Instead, this game will go down as one of the worst losses in Notre Dame history.

Walker's final stats for the 2008 season were 14-24 on FGs (58.3%). His career numbers are 20-36 (55.6%). Coach Weis stated that he opened up the kicking competition several times in practice in 2008. In every competition Walker came out on top. He certainly has the leg to be successful, and his problems seem to be in his head.

The kicking game is an underrated entity in college football. Consistent production of field goals will be a must if the Irish hope to be a BCS contender in 2009.

If Walker has a season anything like 2008, he could quickly find himself replaced. Expect Freshman Nick Tausch to fight for the starting job if things go awry.The offensive line and defense have been the topic of many discussions this offseason. Rightfully so. However, the kicking game could prove to be the most important piece to the puzzle.

In a close game, the kicking game can make the difference. Here's to hoping that difference is a positive one for the Irish in 2009.This is my first B/R article and constructive criticism is appreciated. Feel free to tell me if you loved or hated it.