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CHRIS DUFRESNE / ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Pressure kickers in the pressure cooker

Coaches have grown conservative at the end of games, and sometimes it doesn't work out. Just ask Stanford or Boise State.

January 04, 2012|Chris Dufresne
  • Stanford kicker Jordan Williamson misses a field goal attempt in overtime during the Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma State on Monday.
Stanford kicker Jordan Williamson misses a field goal attempt in overtime… (Matt York / Associated Press )

Reporting from New Orleans — Momma, don't let your babies grow up to be … kickers.

If you do, buy earplugs and a crate of antacids.

There is no more wrenching sight in sports than seeing some mother's son shank a field goal or extra point on national, regional or local television.

What a helpless, heartless feeling. Sort of like watching a kitten stuck in a tree.

It's different than witnessing an NFL kicker miss. Those guys are paid professionals who don't have to face classmates in school Monday.

In the Sugar Bowl on Tuesday at the Superdome, Brendan Gibbons connected on a 37-yard field goal that lifted Michigan to a 23-20 overtime victory over Virginia Tech.

Thank heavens.

My gut could not have taken another botched attempt this close to the Mississippi River from another kid who looks like Huckleberry Finn.

Oklahoma State left the Fiesta Bowl on Monday night rejoicing an overtime victory against Stanford. But victory came at the expense of Jordan Williamson, a redshirt freshman who missed three field goals, including a 35-yarder at the end of regulation that would have been a game winner.

"I just felt like something good would happen," Oklahoma State Coach Mike Gundy said.

"Good" for Gundy was the son of Grady Williamson and Laura Barton going over an emotional cliff in a handbasket.

Williamson was inconsolable after the game, such a contrast to his bowl haircut and smiling face on page 52 of Stanford's postseason media guide. It noted there that he is interested in studying human biology or management science.

Monday night was more like crisis management.

The flip side was Cowboys kicker Quinn Sharp, who kicked the game winner. Earlier this season, Sharp missed a field goal against Iowa State that could have put Oklahoma State in New Orleans playing for the national title.

Sharp is one of the few who could commiserate with Williamson.

"I mean, it's not an easy feeling," he said. "Everything comes down to you. You are the last one. It is on the line."

More than one play usually determines the outcome of a game.

"They don't look at those plays," Sharp said. "They look at: The kicker messed up."

In Oregon, they lament Alejandro Maldonado's 37-yard miss against USC on Nov. 19 that might have cost the Ducks a shot at the Bowl Championship Series title.

Boise State lost millions of dollars and consecutive trips to the Rose Bowl and BCS title game, in part because of missed kicks.

Kyle Brotzman narrowly missed a 26-yard field-goal attempt that should have defeated Nevada last season in Reno. Brotzman's kick was off by mere inches. He also missed a 29-yard try in overtime.

It didn't matter that Brotzman stepped into that kick as the Western Athletic Conference's career scoring leader. He received death threats upon returning to Boise.

This season, Broncos freshman Dan Goodale pushed right a 39-yard try that would have defeated Texas Christian. That miss probably cost Boise State a trip to the BCS title game.

One problem in today's game is that kicking has become way too important. The position has evolved to the point it has shortened the field and neutralized the evolution of the game-ending touchdown.

You might blame it all on the Gogolak family, which emigrated from Hungary in the 1950s and introduced soccer-style kicking to our American sport.

The field goal wasn't considered a big weapon in college football until Princeton's Charlie Gogolak, in 1965, kicked six field goals in a win over Rutgers. Gogolak was the first kicker to be selected an All-American.

His sidewinder success started a revolution that caused the second big problem: head coaches deferring game-ending responsibility to the fragile psyches of kickers.

You want evidence?

Stanford, in a tie game, had the ball at Oklahoma State's 25 on Monday night with 52 seconds left in the fourth quarter.

Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, perhaps the best player in college football, had methodically driven his team down field into game-winning position. But then Cardinal Coach David Shaw pulled the forward-progress plug on Luck and put the onus on Williamson.

Shaw's actions indicated he felt it was too risky to let Luck, who had thrown four incomplete passes all game, take a shot at the end zone. Instead, he stuck with the Coaching 101 manual, which states that you off-load the pressure on your kicker and pray his boot clears just before your bowl bonus check.

Then, in describing defeat afterward, Shaw strangely said, "We cannot settle for field goals against a good football team. Good teams score touchdowns."

Huh?

No matter what he said, Shaw isn't alone in the way he acted. In the same game, Gundy passed up running on first and goal from the one in overtime and elected to have Sharp run out and kick the winner.

Gundy deduced a snap-placement-kick sequence ending with the guy who missed against Iowa State was safer than a plunge into the line.

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