Why Kickers Deserve a Break

Victor Flores FishWrap, FishWrap Archive

Alejandro Maldonado kicking during the Fiesta Bowl vs Kansas State

Alejandro Maldonado kicking during the Fiesta Bowl vs Kansas State

Kickers might be the most polarizing athletes in all of sports.  Their only job is to kick the football between two goal posts, often during the fourth quarter when games are close, so the results of their kicks leave room for two possible narratives;  If they make the field goal, they’re heroes.  If they miss, they’re awful, disgraceful, should-be-playing-soccer scapegoats.

It seems like the second result happens much more often than the first, though.  For every Adam Vinatieri, who’s known for his clutch kicking, there are more Alejandro Maldonados or Kyle Brotzmans who will always be known for missing big kicks.

It’s tempting to say kickers like these deserve all the blame they receive because they only have one job to worry about, but this misses an important point.  One or two plays, especially one of last resort that is the field goal attempt, should never be considered more important than every other play before and after.  Obviously it’s heartbreaking when an opportunity to tie or win a game is denied by a failed kick, but that is merely one of countless plays that contribute to a loss.

Every Ducks fan knows Maldonado and it would take a while to find one with a positive opinion of him.

His infamy started on November 19, 2011 when Oregon played USC.  Five seconds to go, Trojans ahead 38-35, Maldonado lines up for a 37-yard field goal… wide left.

Fast-forward a year when the Ducks were up against Stanford.  Oregon leads 14-7 in the third quarter, Maldonado stares down a 42-yarder… wide right.  Then in overtime with the score tied 14-14 he attempted a kick from the same distance.  The ball deflected off the left upright, essentially sealing the victory for Stanford.

Maldonado's final-second missed field goals vs USC in 2011

Maldonado’s final-second missed field goal vs USC in 2011

There’s a good chance the Ducks win both those games if Maldonado converts his field goals.  But neither of those kicks was to win the game outright.

If he makes the kick in the USC game the Ducks go to overtime. That gives them a much better chance to win, of course, but it certainly doesn’t guarantee a victory.  Oregon also started the game extremely slow, trailing 24-7 in the third quarter, and the drive leading up to Maldonado’s missed kick was not handled perfectly.  Maldonado had no control over these things.

Similar events happened in the Stanford game.  The Ducks struggled more than expected and Stanford played better than expected.  A few plays didn’t go Oregon’s way – their overtime drive stalled, Maldonado missed his field goal and Stanford came away with the win.  Maldonado certainly didn’t help the cause but he was one of several Ducks who struggled.

This isn’t meant to criticize Maldonado’s teammates and coaches while making him look blameless.  His team gave him chances to come through and he didn’t deliver.  Still, it’s foolish to ignore the multitude of other factors that go into losses like these.  There are mistakes by the Ducks, brilliant plays by the opponents and lots of breaks that don’t go Oregon’s way.  All these factors collectively contribute to the final result much more than a single missed field goal could.

Kickers also shouldn’t be considered the only obstacle for a championship-caliber team.  Sure, it’s looked this way for the Ducks because their only two losses of the past two seasons were highlighted by costly missed kicks, but these games aren’t totally representative of the college football norm.

Notre Dame’s only loss last year was in the National Championship game, when Alabama humiliated them almost as much as Deadspin did to Manti Te’o.  The Irish certainly couldn’t blame kicking for their demise.

Georgia would’ve played Notre Dame if not for their 32-28 loss to ‘Bama in the SEC Championship game.  Their kicker, Marshall Morgan, did miss his only field goal attempt – a 50-yarder in the first quarter.  That miss certainly didn’t help the Bulldogs but it didn’t change the outcome of the game (‘Bama also punted on their possession following the miss).

Maldonado's first miss vs Stanford last season

Maldonado’s first miss vs Stanford last season

Georgia’s only other loss last season was a 35-7 blowout against South Carolina.

The 2008 USC Trojans would’ve made the National Championship game if not for their early-season 27-21 upset loss to Oregon State.  USC’s kicker made all three extra points and didn’t attempt a single field goal.

Heck, even the Ducks can’t blame their kicking for every near-championship season.

There was one field goal attempted by Rob Beard in their 2011 title game loss to Auburn.  Beard made it easily.

The season before, the Ducks lost to Boise State, Stanford, and Ohio State.

They didn’t attempt a field goal or a PAT in the Boise game.

Morgan Flint attempted and made six PATs against Stanford while attempting zero field goals.

Flint went 1-for-2 on field goals against Ohio State, missing a 45-yarder with seven minutes left when they were down by nine.

It makes complete sense why kickers become so vilified for missing kicks.  Field goals are just easier to focus on than other plays.  A made kick equals points.  A miss equals a failure to score points.  These kicks often come in situations where both teams are within three points of each other.  Although there is a pass rush trying to block the kick, the field goal attempt basically just depends on the snap, hold and kick.  There isn’t a complex play designed to get the ball to a receiver with linebackers and defensive backs in the way, and there also aren’t dozens of kicks during a game to take into account.

While blaming kickers is understandable it’s still unfair, especially when discussing Oregon.  The Ducks have been known for avoiding field goal attempts in order to go for it on fourth down, so kickers have fewer chances to make an impact than they would on other teams.  However, other teams don’t use their kickers that much more often.  Truth is, kickers honestly don’t matter as much as some think.  It’s heartbreaking when a kicker has a chance to make a difference and fails, but that miss is hardly the most costly of mistakes when a game is lost.

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