Top Spring Ball Questions: Are the Kickers' Confidence Shot?

Right along side passes getting batted down at the line of scrimmage or a lack of quarterback pressures from the defense, the kicking game was near the top of the list in fan dissapointments last year. I try to be very even keel about what I write regarding the Buffs and try to see the positives in things but this is not one of them: special teams was a joke last year. Never in my short adult life has their been so much discussion about the recruitment of a kicker as this past cycle. It was easy to tell on our site that the fans had enough of "he hit the upright" or "he barely missed it." Hopefully, Aric Goodman will bounce back this year and prove us all wrong but Hawkins granting of a scholarship after three games into the season was premature to put it kindly. With the addition of Denver East H.S. kicker/punter, Zach Grossnickle, the Buffs now have four kickers/punters on scholarship (a big number) with the only 2009 senior being probable starting punter, Matt DiLallo. Colorado could end up being in a similar spot next recruiting cycle if Grossnickle doesn't answer the bell showing that he can handle the punting duties as Jameson Davis and Aric Goodman seem to handle the other areas of the kicking game (Davis is listed as a punter as well, I have not seen any evidence that he will be punting in the future, he might be able to handle it). Jameson Davis is also coming off knee surgery and will be out for spring practice, another concern if Davis can fully recover as knee problems have hampered him in the past as well.

In case you don't remember how bad special teams were last year, specifically around the kicking game, here is a nice chart that will get you boiled up again:

Category Stat Rank (out of 120)
Field Goal % 35.30% 120th
Avg Yards/Punt 39.61 66th
PAT % 96.80% 56th
Punt Return Yds Against 10.52 82nd
Kickoff Return Yds Against 25.97 114th

And I know some of you remember this chart from last year depicting how many points Colorado's special teams had cost the Buffs. This was only updated through the Iowa State game and only shows points as a direct result of inadequate special teams play. It does not factor in loss of momentum (take the Florida State game for example and figure if we don't shoot ourselves in the foot on special teams and make a few completions for touchdowns, we are probably routing FSU):

see more after the jump...

 

Opponent Play Result Total Points
Colorado State Kickoff TD CSU Kickoff Return TD -7
Eastern Washington Missed Field Goal Goodman Missed Field Goal -3
Eastern Washington Buffs Fumble Josh Smith fumble, Led to EWU TD -7
Florida State Missed Field Goal Goodman Missed Field Goal -3
Florida State Jfly Bonehead Return Smith Gets tackled at the 4, led to safety, field goal -5
Florida State Kickoff TD FSU returns kickoff 94 yards -7
Texas Missed Field Goal Goodman Missed Field Goal -3
Texas Missed Field Goal Goodman Missed Field Goal -3
Texas Missed Field Goal Goodman Missed Field Goal -3
Kansas St Missed Field Goal Goodman Missed Field Goal -3
Kansas St Missed Field Goal Goodman Missed Field Goal -3
Missouri Punter Fumble Suazo Drops the Ball on Own 5 yd line, TD Mizzou -7
Missouri Bad Punt DiLallo 23 yard punt before half leads to FG -3
Missouri Bad Punt/Cov DiLallo 34 yard punt, returned 30 yards, net 4 yd punt, TD Mizzou -7
Missouri Bad Punt/Cov Suazo 33 yd punt, returned to CU 39, TD Mizzou -7
Texas A&M Missed Field Goal Goodman Missed Field Goal -3
Iowa State Missed Field Goal J Davis Missed Field Goal -3
Iowa State Missed Field Goal J Davis Missed Field Goal -3
Iowa State Blocked Ex Point Goodman Blocked Extra Point -1


TOTAL -81


TOTAL/GAME -8.1

Yes, up to the Iowa State game, the Buffs special teams was giving up at least 8.1ppg to the opposition. This analysis was sparked by the horrible performance against Iowa State with missed field goals, muffed punts and a plethora of roughing the punter penalties. Of course, KR/PR Josh Smith had some good returns and was a direct result of Buff touchdowns but he was no where near 81 points to offset the mistakes made by the special teams. Their will be a hard eye on Kent Riddle and the special team's unit this year.

Of course, practice isn't the problem as Aric Goodman once upon a time earned the nickname "money" because of his near perfection in practice, so we might not get a great idea of future performance in spring ball this offseason. That being said, eyes will be on Goodman and the coaching staff to create pressure filled situations and really challenge him. It will also be interesting to see where Goodman's confidence is during spring ball. With all of the talk last year about his ineffectiveness and the recruitment of a new kicker as a direct result of his poor play, I wonder if he will be the same practice perfomer as in 2008.

The real evaluation will begin when true freshman Zach Grossnickle comes to town for fall ball. It is a ton of pressure for him as a freshman but if he is able to step in and take a starting role as either the punter or the kicker right away, it would be a step in the right direction. Either way, whether it is the true freshman or Goodman, we will have to go through another year of tense kicking situations where no field goal, regardless of distance, is a gimme.

Some other things that need to be corrected this offseason in the special team's game is around Josh Smith. I was a big supporter last year of Smith (very unpopular at certain times) as I felt their were a couple of games (Colorado State, Eastern Washington, Kansas to name a few) that he single handidly kept Colorado in the game. I also felt that he was one of two playmakers this team had on offense and he needed to play more. Of course, later in the year it became known that Smith was injured most of the season (shoulders) and he didn't have a firm grasp of the offense to be trusted. Smith statistics are unquestioned on the special teams side, as he ranked third in the Big 12 in all-purpose yards. That being said, he also proved to be a liability at times. I partially blame Smith but the other half has to go to Riddle and the coaching staff. When does it become enough when Smith disregards catching the ball inside the 10, calling for a fair catch, muffing the ball that you pull him and send the message that he needs to be more aware on the field? To see him catch the ball over and over inside the ten and field kicks he shouldn't have made you wonder what he was being coached? We saw he was disciplined on offense last year by not playing but no such ramifications on special teams. Yes, he is a great asset but he ended up hurting the team in situations. Every game was the same story where you would sit their and say, "he did that last week too."

If the Buffs are going to be successful this year, two things must happen that directly relate to special teams. Colorado cannot make only one out of every three field goals and Josh Smith needs to be a big time player both on special teams and offense. I guarantee the offense will be exponentially better if both Markques Simas and Smith learn the offense, watch film, dedicate themselves in practice and mature. They have the ability to be a top three wide receiving core in the Big 12 and Smith has the ability to be the #1 all purpose performer in the conference. It's now up to them if they want to realize those goals.

One thing is for sure...you can't give up 81 points on special teams again.

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