|Donald Miralle/Getty Images|
To be clear: This isn't about inconsistent kickers. There are 120 FBS teams, and it appears not every school is able to find a consistent kicker. We're looking at the coaches who change the game, slow down their own offenses -- many times offenses that are rolling! -- and choose to settle for field goals. Case number one:
MICHIGAN STATE 33 GEORGIA 30 | 3OT
In the Outback Bowl, Michigan State started overtime with the ball, and Kirk Cousins threw an interception. All Georgia needed was a field goal, and Mark Richt was sure to keep it that way. After a minimal gain on first down, quarterback Aaron Murray was instructed to move the ball to the middle of the field and take a knee, which he did at the 25-yard line. The Bulldogs marched out the field-goal unit on third down to attempt a 42-yard field goal.
Before this game, Blair Walsh was 19-31 on the season, which at 61% is anything but automatic. From 40-49 yard range, Walsh was just 4-9 (yes, that's just 44%). Despite that, Richt and the Bulldogs would forgo even trying to punch in a touchdown to put up the 42 yarder. Walsh would miss, of course, and the Bulldogs would go on to lose in 3 overtimes.
OKLAHOMA STATE 41 STANFORD 38 | OT
David Shaw, come on down! You're the next contestant on Should You Trust Your Kicker!
In a Fiesta Bowl shootout, Oklahoma State scored to tie the game at 38-38 with 2:35 left. With two timeouts in its pocket, the Cardinal marched down the field on the arm of Andrew Luck. In the first six plays of the drive, Luck went 5-5 for 50 yards to move Stanford to the OSU 25-yard line. With 52 seconds left, Oklahoma State burned its last timeout, preparing for Stanford to score, so it would have time to get the ball back. The Cowboys knew they couldn't stop Stanford. The Cardinal had just moved right down the field in crunch time. The Golden Boy, the man people are calling the best pro prospect of ZOMG EVER!, the player Matt Millen and Sean McDonough were already saying would have an NFL career like John Elway or Peyton Manning -- this player is your quarterback. He just diced up the defense with ease to get you 25 yards away.
So naturally, with two timeouts and 52 seconds left, you would not even try to score a touchdown. Stanford's kicker had proven much more reliable than Georgia's has, definitely. But why not try to score a touchdown and remove all doubt? Jordan Williamson missed his 35-yard attempt as time expired, and the game went to overtime.
I am convinced that coaches don't watch other games. They can't have. After the Year of the Kicker, and after the events that specifically happened on this day and even in this game, Mike Gundy did the same thing! After Stanford got the ball first in overtime, and Williamson missed another kick, it looked like Oklahoma State was going for the kill. Mike Gundy is a man, after all. Brandon Weeden hit a 24-yard strike to Colton Chelf down the seam, and Chelf reached for the goalline and appeared to have scored. After review, the ball was placed at the half-yard line. So what did the Cowboys do?
Weeden took the first down snap, ran to the middle of the field, and took a knee for a four-yard loss. They needed half of a yard. One and a half feet. Sure, Quinn Sharp nailed home the 22-yard field goal for the win. It worked. Good for Gundy and the Cowboys. But in a game with defenses struggling to keep up, and after a history of evidence before him, Gundy would rather leave the game up to the kicking unit? He chose a long snap, hold, and field goal, as opposed to letting the senior quarterback run a QB sneak, or letting Randle power up the middle from the inverted-wishbone-pistol.
I don't get it. No, I'm not an employed football coach. But I don't get it.
UTAH 17 BYU 16 - 2010
There are a bevy of examples, but I just wanted to hit on this one from last year. The Utah-BYU rivalry was as awesome as any rivalry in the country over the last few years. Games in 2005, 2006, 2009, and 2010 were all decided on the very final play of the game or in overtime, with the 2001 and 2007 games being decided very late in the fourth quarter. 2010 gave us another good one, and another coach trusting the kicking game.
Utah took a 17-16 lead with 4:21 left in the game in Salt Lake. BYU took the ball at its own 21-yard line and began a deliberate march. On the arm of true freshman Jake Heaps, with grit shown in that game that he has not displayed again, the Cougars moved the ball. With two runs mixed in, Heaps went 4-4 for 49 yards to lead BYU to the Utah 24-yard line. With two timeouts of their own, and Utah looking to stop the clock themselves, BYU chose to deny the freshman QB with moxie and talent developing before our very eyes a chance to win the game. Two run plays resulted in Utah burning their final two timeouts. Another run play on third down allowed BYU to milk to the clock down to four seconds. The net result of the three run plays was -3 yards. After owning the four minutes, after marching right down the field and controlling the clock perfectly, BYU settled for a 42-yard field goal. Kicker Mitch Payne was 17-20 on the year, a good average, but two of his three misses were from the 40-49 yard range. None of that mattered, as the game came down to this:
You LOSE! Good DAY SIR!
In many cases, a team will struggle and fight for every yard, get stuffed, and have to put up a field goal. Which is fine. But why do coaches continually take the ball out of the hands of a rolling offense to kick a field goal instead of just putting the ball in the endzone? I wish I had an answer. It really seems like coaches don't pay attention to the history of times other coaches have made the same decision.