SALT LAKE CITY — What in the name of Louie Sakoda has happened to placekicking in the state this year?
It's been a rough year for placekickers in college football around here — to say the least.
Missed field goals, missed PATs and blocked kicks ... heck, it's gotten to the point where teams are afraid to even try kicking short field goals on fourth down and instead take their chances going for it.
Where have you gone, Owen Pochman?
The placekickers at Utah's three main football programs, BYU, Utah and Utah State, have combined to hit just 50 percent (11 of 22) of their field goal tries this year. Not bad you say, but remember over the past decade local kickers have made around 70 percent of their kicks per season and as high as 91 percent (Sakoda's senior year in 2008).
Even those automatic PAT kicks aren't so automatic any more. Teams often go an entire season without missing a PAT, but already this year, BYU has missed three extra points, USU two and Utah one.
Friday night's game between BYU and Utah State was an ugly example of the placekicking woes.
The Cougars had a field-goal attempt blocked, missed an extra point and had a fake field-goal play snuffed out when they weren't anxious to try another kick. The Aggies did make a short field goal, but they missed a crucial 38-yarder midway through the fourth quarter that would have tied the score.
In fact, both the Aggies and Cougars could make the case they could each be unbeaten with some normal placekicking.
If Josh Thompson had made a 37-yard field goal at Wisconsin last month, the Aggies would likely have won 17-16. If Thompson had connected on the 38-yarder Friday night in Provo, the Aggies would have tied the score at 6-6 and likely forced overtime.
BYU's placekicking has been so abysmal this year that coach Bronco Mendenhall suggested on national TV the other night that he might try quarterback Taysom Hill, who was a kicker in high school, if things didn't improve.
The Cougars' two placekickers, Riley Stephenson and Justin Sorensen, are just 4 for 8 in field goals this year. Stephenson's longest kick has been from 33 yards. Sorensen, who was a respectable 15 for 25 last year despite being injured, is 0 for 2 this year — not counting the blocked 51-yard try against Utah that didn't count because of a penalty
Thompson is 4 for 6, but his longest make was from just 32 yards out. The Aggies aren't confident trying long field goals.
Over at Utah, Coleman Peterson, a Pac-12 honorable mention selection last year, has struggled as well, going just 3 for 7 and missing a PAT. He had a chance to win the Utah State game with a 52-yarder at the end of regulation, a tough try no doubt, and missed, and he also missed a 48-yarder against USC that could have tied the score going into halftime.
Peterson's confidence has seemed shaken since missing three field goals in the regular-season finale against Colorado last year. And confidence could be a big factor in the performances of Stephenson, Sorensen and Thompson, who must start thinking more with every miss.
Part of the problem is that we've become a little spoiled by some of the kicking in recent years.
Sakoda made 86.3 percent of his career field goal tries for Utah, an astonishing 57 of 66 over a three-year period. He missed just four tries his first season, three his second and two his third when he went 22 of 24 and became a consensus All-American.
Mitch Payne made 74 percent of his field goals as a four-year starter for BYU from 2007-10. His older brother, Matt, was also a four-year starter earlier in the decade and converted on 71 percent of his field-goal tries from 2001-04.
Before that was Pochman, who is the most prolific of all with 66 field goals from 1997 to 2000 for BYU. He made 72.5 percent of them.
Utah State has had its share of good placekickers, but many such as Brad Bohn, Micah Knorr and Dane Kidman played over a decade ago. But as recently as 2007-10, the Aggies had Peter Caldwell, who had a .688 percentage and is sixth all-time in field goals made.
We're not trying to beat up on placekickers here. It has to be one of the toughest jobs in sports with immense pressure every time they step on the field. Sure, you get all the glory if you make a last-second winning field goal, but you're also the guy everyone complains about when things aren't going well.
The season isn't even half over, so there's plenty of time for the kicking to get better.
It can't get much worse.
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