One of Nebraska football’s biggest problems this year is its lack of a solid kicker.
This problem began after sophomore kicker Barret Pickering was injured in the preseason. Some fans tend to blame coaches and claim it’s the coaches’ jobs to have a good backup. However, it’s good to put into perspective the restrictions they have when building a roster.
“When we got here, Barrett came in, and we have one spot for one freshman kicker to come in, and all of a sudden, that guy gets hurt. We have a problem. So it leaves a little bit of a void,” special teams coordinator Jovan Dewitt said.
Dewitt mentioned when rebuilding a roster, it’s critical to take possible injuries into account. He thought they did, but it wasn’t enough. It’s tough to plan for the starting kicker and second-string kicker to get injured, which is exactly what happened for Nebraska this season after freshman kicker Dylan Jorgensen went down.
Kickers are usually so specialized that it’s challenging for a punter to attempt kicking-off and extra points. This is what the Huskers initially tried as they had senior punter Isaac Armstrong handle place-kicking duties in the first two games of the season
“You like to think that you can recruit guys that can do both [kickoff and punt], but the reality of it is that they’ve become more specialized,” Dewitt said.
Dewitt even researched different schools across the Big Ten and looked into their kicking situations. He looked at who’s doing all three kicking roles and found that it’s typically three different kickers.
The coaches have been forced to begin cross-training a couple of the players so they are prepared for multiple kicking roles.
This process can cause inconsistency, which is the biggest challenge the Huskers have to overcome.
“I think consistency is going to be the issue and consistency comes with reps. It’s just like if you’re shooting a free throw. It’s no different. It’s acquired skill,” Dewitt said.
The kicking dilemma has led to tough choices on whether to go for the extra point or a two-point conversion. Dewitt said there are a lot of factors that go into that decision depending on the situation. Those factors include who’s kicking, where the wind is, what the game situation is, how much time’s left on the clock and analytics.
“If nothing else, it makes us a little bit more unpredictable,” Dewitt says.
Going into this week’s game against Ohio State, Dewitt described the special teams’ performance as “critical.” Everything matters in a game against such a highly ranked opponent.
“There’s a talented football team coming in,” Dewitt said. “We can’t give them free yards. We’ve gotta find a way to maximize the field position as much as possible.”