Notre Dame’s 25 Most Important Players: Jonathan Doerer, Honorable Mention
BlueandGold.com’s countdown of Notre Dame’s Top 25 Most Important Players for 2020 prosperity concluded yesterday. To no one’s surprise, fifth-year senior and third-year starting quarterback Ian Book was the unanimous No. 1 selection among all five staff members.
Similar to the Associated Press poll, eight other players “also received votes” but not enough overall points to crack the top 25. The most unusual case was senior kicker Jonathan Doerer.
Whereas six of those eight players received only one vote by a staff member among the top 25 and sophomore punter Jay Bramblett received two mentions, Doerer was in the top 25 on all five of our ballots: as high as 21, but also 22, 24 and twice at 25.
The seven individuals who finished 19 through 25 in the cumulative ballots were not unanimous on all five like Doerer was, but still finished with more overall points because of placing higher cumulatively on ballots. Plus, several others who ranked in the teens and even higher, also were not on all five ballots. Thus, we feel compelled to include Doerer as at least an honorable mention.
Last year as a junior, Doerer had the unenviable task of succeeding four-year starter Justin Yoon, the school’s all-time scoring leader and the most accurate field goal kicker in Notre Dame history who had at least 50 attempts: 59 of 73 (80.8 percent).
David Ruffer (2009-11) has the highest percentage with at least 40 attempts when he was 33 of 40 (82.5 percent), highlighted by drilling a school-record 23 straight to open his career.
Ruffer is the lone Notre Dame kicker to be one of the three finalists for the Lou Groza Award (2010), which began in 1992 to honor the nation’s top kicker.
Despite a rough first two years as Notre Dame’s kickoff man in 2017-18, Doerer responded brilliantly in his debut season while succeeding Yoon. He was the first kicker in school history to compile more than 100 points in a season (108) when he converted all 57 extra point attempts (even Yoon missed six in his career), while also drilling 17 of 20 field goal tries (85.0 percent).
The highlight came in the hard-fought 30-27 victory over USC in which Doerer’s three field goal attempts from 43, 45 and 52 yards were all good, and spelled the difference in the conquest.
It was only the second time ever a Fighting Irish kicker made three field goals in a game from 40 yards or beyond (Dave Reeve was 3 of 4 during a 16-6 victory over Michigan State by the 1977 national champs).
In the spring of 2019, the long-limbed and 6-3 Doerer shortened his stride to the ball and it helped make a difference in his consistency and accuracy. He’s always displayed NFL-level power and pop in his kicks, but accuracy had been the past issue.
One of 30 kickers named to the watch list for the Lou Groza Award this year, Doerer should have a legitimate chance to make an NFL roster if he builds on his fabulous junior campaign.
Name a year, any year, and chances are a kicker’s performance will have a significant bearing on at least a couple of outcomes.
There will be situations this year where Doerer will be called on to help make the difference in an outcome as well, just like versus USC (or making the final extra point in the 21-20 win versus Virginia Tech). If Notre Dame is to become a College Football Playoff contender in 2020, Doerer must avoid the “senior year” jinx of some of the great names in Fighting Irish kicking history.
What do we mean by that? Here are five of the greatest, in our humble opinion, single-season impact years in kicking at Notre Dame — and then the tough results their senior seasons:
1. John Carney (1984)
The sophomore walk-on set an NCAA record with a perfect percentage on field goals from 40 to 49 yards — 10 of 10. Overall he was 17 of 19 (89.5 percent).
What puts him atop this chart is he made a difference in four victories, highlighted by a 44-yard field goal with 14 seconds left to beat Navy 18-17.
Senior Jinx: The final numbers actually were pretty good for Carney in 1986 — 21 of 28 on field goals. However, in one-point losses to Michigan (24-23) and Pitt (10-9), he missed potential game-winning field goals on the final series (plus an extra point versus Michigan), and also had a tough miss in a 21-19 loss at SEC champ LSU.
2. Harry Oliver (1980)
Named a third-team All-American by Football News for a then Irish-record-setting 18 field goals made in 23 attempts. His 51-yard field goal as time elapsed to take down Michigan (29-27) was probably the most famous in school history and proved to be a huge impetus during a 9-0-1 start.
The next two weeks Oliver also tied the school record for field goals in a game with four apiece versus Michigan State and Miami in hard-fought wins, and his 47-yarder with 4:44 left salvaged a 3-3 tie for No. 1 Notre Dame at Georgia Tech.
The blemish was going 1 of 4 in the 17-10 Sugar Bowl loss to Georgia.
Senior Jinx: Oliver was 6 of 13 on field goals the following season, including missing two from close range in a 14-7 loss to USC.
3. Kyle Brindza (2012)
His school-record 23 made field goals (in 31 attempts) helped the Irish to a 12-0 regular season. He kicked the game-winner from 27 yards with seven seconds left in the 20-17 win over Purdue, put the game into overtime versus Stanford on a 22-yarder with 20 seconds left, converted from 37 yards in the second overtime during a three-overtime conquest of Pitt, and was clutch on the road in wins over Oklahoma and USC, nailing five field goals versus the Trojans — one from 52 yards to end the first half — in a 22-13 triumph.
Senior Jinx: Issues with the holders contributed to making only 14 of 24 field goals in 2014, with 11th-hour misses in back-to-back home losses to Northwestern and Louisville. Like Carney, he did go out on a superb note with a short field goal in his final contest that won the game as time expired, 31-28 over LSU in the Music City Bowl.
4. Mike Johnston (1982)
He was 19 of 22 on field goals to set a then new single-season Irish mark in number made and percentage (86.4). Like Oliver, he was named a third-team All-American by Football News.
Johnston’s three field goals helped defeat Michigan (23-17) in the opener and earned him a scholarship. He also kicked the game-winner from 32 yards in the rain with 11 seconds left to defeat Miami (16-14), and two weeks later he made one at Oregon from 35 yards with 11 seconds remaining again to produce a 13-13 outcome.
Senior Jinx: His field goal percentage plummeted by near 30 points while converting just 12 of 21, and having two blocked (including a short one in the closing seconds) in a 23-22 loss to Air Force in the regular-season finale.
5. David Ruffer (2010)
The field goal percentage of 94.7 (18 of 19) was better than our top four, but he did miss three extra points, one of which was returned for a two-pointer by Tulsa that helped it win, 28-27. He also didn’t have a dramatic game-winner in the closing seconds like the others. Still, Ruffer was fabulous, and his three field goals apiece were instrumental in home victories against Purdue (23-12) and Pitt (23-17).
Senior Jinx: The 2011 percentage (10 of 16) dropped about 32.0, beginning with a miss from 30 yards out on his lone attempt in the opener, a 23-20 loss to South Florida.
Honorable mention to Bob Thomas (1973) and Reggie Ho (1988) for a couple of clutch performances during national title campaigns.
The moral of the story is to never take the kicking game for granted, no matter how superb it might have been the year prior.