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What about the kicking game?
Malamute, 4 May 2007

A long time ago, before some accomplished kickers and punters arrived on campus at Washington, a poster on dawgman.com, repeatedly asked the question, "What about the kicking game?" Will that pesky question, which had no good answer, return to Husky football in the fall?

After the Spring game on April 28, my thoughts returned to that era on dawgman, as the punting/kicking game stunk up the joint.

Sure, there was just one guy – Jared Ballman (where do these kickers get their names?) -- doing all the punting and kicking -- and certainly his leg must have tired. And there was that swirling wind.

And I’m sure the coaches wouldn’t have offered him a scholarship if they hadn’t believed in his abilities

Attesting to that is this quote from Molly Yanity’s blog (Yanity is a beat writer for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer). “In practices, Ballman put out some nice punts -- not long bombs like former punter Sean Douglas kicked -- but solid, controlled punts with terrific hang time.”

But in the spring game, Ballman punted six times for a paltry average of 26.5 yards per punt. Most of them were punted against a stiff wind, according to beat reporter Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times. Ballman also missed a field goal attempt.

Due partly to some nice kickoff returns and short punts, the Purple team had these enviable locations to start from, unofficially: its 40, its 41, the 50, its 40, its 43, the Gold 47, the Gold 47, the Gold 49, its own 4, and the Gold 25, which averaged out to the Purple 41-yard line. The first team, the Purple, won the game, 44-7.

Let's hope the kicking game resolves itself in the fall when freshman kicker Erik Folk arrives and punter/kicker Ryan Perkins returns from injury. Folk’s coach, Chris Sailer (where do these guys get their names?), did all the punting and kicking for UCLA in the mid-1990s, rooting some boomers through the holes in the ozone. He turned the ball over in the good way, not the bad. I’m sure he’s schooled Folk well in the mechanics and art of kicking at his training camp.

One reason for the short kickoffs, during the spring game, is that they started with the ball placed at the the 30-yard line rather than at the 35, which had been its place last season.

This new NCAA rule, put in place to encourage more kickoff returns, should add more excitement to the game. Also, it should take more time off the clock, which feeds the NCAA goal of shortening the time it takes to play a game.  

Nevertheless, I flat out don’t like the new kickoff rule. It could lead to more injuries, for one thing. And, please, not to the kicker. This is college football, remember. Whoops, I forgot, it's all about money.

A high impact collision, sans an airbag:

If some guy, faster, bigger and stronger than you, knocks your block off on a kickoff return, it's next to impossible to be aggressive and "nasty" on special teams after that -- unless you're still light-headed feeling. Running down the field as fast as you can, the hoofs of pounding feet in your helmet -- you curse the coach that put you on special teams -- and then the inevitable collision occurs. The muffled stadium is mostly quiet, eyeballs fluttering in their sockets. Next thing you know you’re circling the stadium with the seagulls, 50 feet down from that 57-year old press box that hangs precipitously in the air. At sea level again, fresh air fills your lungs; the murmur of the crowd grows in your ears. Someone asks, "How many fingers do you see?"

"Six?"

Another thing I don’t like about the new rule is that it favors those teams blessed with overall speed. I’m thinking of the haves, like USC and Florida, and their high-octane special teams. If a team should get good field position against one of them, its defense will punish it with a three-and-out.

In USC’s case, it has a couple of accomplished kickers in Troy Van Blarcom (where do these kickers get their names, I mean, Troy?) and David Buehler, to enhance the speed of its special teams.

In the early part of last season, Van Blarcom had 9 touchbacks out of 10 kickoffs. Not that he’s going to start out as fast as Traveler this season, but watch for most of his kickoffs to a reach the goal line or, at least, be inside the 10 when they are received. To be sure, there will be a zinger or two that impales the end zone.

I read somewhere that one of those Trojan's kickers said that kicking off from the 30 should be no problem for him. Indeed, kickers live in a strange world.

Conversely, I shudder to think of ‘SC's potent offense starting from the 40-plus-yard line after a kickoff.

In Washington’s case, starting on the Saturday following the Dawgs’ first game, I don’t want to read a post on dawgman’s message board that asks, “What about the kicking game?”

That’s no way to kickoff the season. 

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-- Pictured above is kicker Michael Braunstein, who was not invited back for his fifth year at the University of Washington. Currently, he's enrolled at Ohio University and is doing well at both kicking and punting. Also, Kicker Evan Knudson and punter Sean Douglas helped put an end to that incessant question on dawgman.

Malamute can be reached at malamute@4malamute.com

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