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September 2, 2013
It all looked good on paper.
The Irish have a proven, clutch kicker in Kyle Brindza, whose 23 field goals in 2012 set a Notre Dame single-season record. His clutch boots against Purdue, Pittsburgh and USC in particular played a significant role in Notre Dame’s undefeated regular season.
But with the loss of Ben Turk at punter, coupled with Brindza’s live leg and the return of fifth-year senior Nick Tausch - who booted 14 straight field goals as a true freshman way back in 2009 - Brian Kelly believed that he could use the duo in tandem.
Then Tausch attempted a 39-yard field goal late in the second quarter and missed badly, very badly.
Now, as the Irish prepare to take on Michigan in Ann Arbor in front of 110,000 partisan fans, Kelly has a dilemma on his hands and some tough decisions to make.
“We’re going to live with a miss here or there,” Kelly said. “But we can’t have a technically bad kick, which we did with Nick. We’ll make a decision on where we go (this week). Nick generally has good mechanics, although he didn’t on that kick. We’ll see where we go.”
Brindza was given an opportunity to convert a 44-yard field goal on the second play of the fourth quarter and missed as well. But at least Brindza’s attempt had the distance.
“He missed a field goal, but it was 40-plus yards and he banged the heck out of it,” said Kelly of Brindza’s attempt.
Kelly wanted to tag-team the punting and kicking situation this year in an attempt to help preserve Brindza’s leg over the long haul of the regular season. Brindza clearly is Notre Dame’s best kickoff candidate - 26 of his 71 kickoffs went for touchbacks last season, as did two of his five against Temple.
He has the liveliest leg among the punters, which also includes Wake Forest transfer Alex Wulfeck and walk-on Andrew Antognoli. Brindza also has more range on field goals than Tausch, but Kelly wanted to preserve the energy that is sapped from a full-time punter/kicker/kickoff man.
“I would not use the word inconceivable,” said Kelly when asked if Brindza could handle all of the duties. “Kyle Brindza is capable of doing all those. I wanted to lighten the load for him as he settles into doing something that he’s never done before, and that is a very technical position in punting.
“It’s generally a position that you have to spend so much time on, and I had to take a little bit of that time away from him in camp relative to field goals. So from that standpoint, I leaned more on Nick early on to kind of lighten the load for Kyle as he focused squarely on the punting duties.”
As long as Tausch can consistently kick extra points, that’s one way to lighten the load for Brindza. Perhaps Wulfeck could specialize in pooch punts if Brindza can’t quite get a consistent touch.
“Nick did a very good job on the extra points,” Kelly said. “The snaps were good. (Scott) Daly was on time. Luke Massa did a very good job holding.
“On the field goal attempt by Nick, it was just a bad kick. He was thick and heavy on it, and it was just a bad ball. Tausch was going to take all the extra points and I kind of wanted to see what Tausch would do with field goals.”
Although Kelly was disappointed in Brindza’s failure to take advantage of two pooch punts, he still likes Brindza’s potential at the position over the long haul. He averaged 41.2 yards per his five attempts, and the two punts that were returned by Temple netted just four yards.
“We saw on Saturday that Kyle was able to punt effectively outside of not having great touch yet with pooch punting,” Kelly said. “But I’m willing to give that up right now for him flipping field position, and we saw that he can certainly continue to kick off extremely well.”
As the Irish prepare for a huge game in Michigan Stadium, the kicking situation remains a work in progress.
“Nick Tausch is an accomplished kicker,” Kelly said. “Yeah, he missed one and it didn’t look good. But I’m going to lean on those guys to take some of the load off of Kyle until we get this thing to the point where he feels real comfortable.
“We’ve got a lot going on with Kyle, and I still think that Nick and Alex can assist with all the jobs Kyle is asked to do. There are times during the year when they can fill in and help him with these jobs. But obviously Kyle is going to be counted on heavily in the kicking game for us.
“Kyle was a clutch kicker for us last year and we recognize that.”
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