ASU season preview: Kickers
SEP 01, 2013 11:24a ET
Since Thomas Weber won the Lou Groza Award as college football's top kicker in 2007, ASU is 83 for 118 on field-goal attempts, a 70 percent clip. The Sun Devils hope that number improves over the next four seasons.
Freshman placekicker Zane Gonzalez, a late addition to ASU's 2013 signing class, has taken over field-goal duties this offseason, and expectations are high.
Meanwhile, in the punting game, ASU has big shoes to fill with the graduation of Josh Hubner, one of the Pac-12's best punters last season. The situation there is a little less certain and still a bit unsettled with the season opener just a few days away.
Here's a look at what to expect from ASU's kicking game in 2013.
PK Zane Gonzalez, P Dom Vizzare, KO/PAT Alex Garoutte
Gonzalez had a couple shaky days early in fall camp but for the most part has been very good, nailing long kick after long kick. In ASU's Camp Tontozona scrimmage, Gonzalez went 8 for 8 on field-goal attempts with a long of 49 yards.
"I call him 'The Ice Man,'" special-teams coordinator Joe Lorig said. "He's a very confident young man."
Gonzalez has also displayed the even keel necessary to be a successful Division I kicker.
"You just focus on the ball, focus on what you've practiced your whole life," Gonzalez said. "I'm pretty confident, but I don't let it get in my head. When it gets in my head is when I have a problem."
All that is well and good, but Gonzalez still has to prove he can make kicks in a game, particularly in a high-pressure setting.
Field-goal kicking was a sore spot in coach Todd Graham's first season at ASU. After incumbent kicker Alex Garoutte struggled through the first five games of the season, Graham and Lorig had to evaluate the position. With Garoutte 6 for 11 through six games, ASU turned to walk-on Jon Mora.
Mora had previously walked on at Arizona but had never kicked in a Division I game. He went 9 for 12 in the latter half of the year, though, including a key 42-yard field goal against Arizona on the road. But 9 for 12 was not enough to secure the position this year.
"He's good enough to play, and I have confidence in him, but coach Graham doesn't want to be average at anything," Lorig said. "He wants to be in the top 5 or 10 percent. That's why we recruited Zane. I know Zane is one of the top 5 to 10 percent of kickers in America. I have great confidence in him."
While Lorig repeatedly stresses that Gonzalez must prove himself in games, Gonzalez has looked good so far in practice. The Tontozona performance and a few strong days immediately after solidified his place as the starter.
"Any time you have a freshman, it's just a matter of them stepping in front of (a crowd)," Lorig said. "You can simulate game days all you want, but it's a lot different when there's 75,000 people screaming at you and you're on TV."
Mora, meanwhile, has had an inconsistent camp and has been running well behind Gonzalez since going 0 for 3 in the Tontzona scrimmage. Garoutte ran a distant third all camp but remains solid on extra-point attempts and kickoffs.
At punter, however, the coaches can only wish for such peace of mind. Like Gonzalez, freshman Matt Haack was expected to come in and take over starting duties. A left-footed punter out of Iowa, Haack had expectations high for replacing Hubner, who led the Pac-12 and ranked second in the nation last season with a 47.1 yards-per-punt average.
However, Haack hasn't come on as expected. The competition remains open, but walk-on junior Dom Vizzare appears likely to land the top job.
"We've got a really good punting battle going on," Lorig said after a recent mock game. "Yesterday I was leaning more toward Dom being the guy, and then they come out today and they both punt great. So it'll be an ongoing competition, and that's a good thing. It pushes everybody and helps them get better."
Vizzare, out of Scottsdale Community College, has displayed a stronger leg than Haack thus far. While he too has been inconsistent at times, shanking the occasional punt badly, he has also shown better boom ability.
"I just think he has more experience," Lorig said. "Up to this point practice-wise, Dom has been the most consistent, but some guys are just great on game day. Matt was great at Camp Tontozona on game day, and he was great on simulated game day. But consistency is very important. You can't shank a punt. There's too many returners back there. You shank a punt in this league, it's a touchdown."
While much remains to be seen once play begins, the kicking situation seems to have flip-flopped from last season, as kicking is expected to be a strong point while punting is a question mark. But the coaches seem to be comfortable with where ASU stands right now.
"I feel good about it," Lorig said. "We have better depth than we've had in the past. I think we've got a good handle on things."
ONE TO WATCH
Haack, a highly touted scholarship recruit, was expected to run away with the punting job when he arrived. Instead, he's battled inconsistency throughout the preseason. It may be that he needs time to get adjusted to the college level, particularly in mechanics and speed. Coaches are still very high on Haack, who offers a different look as a left-footed punter, and he could end up claiming the starting job at some point in the season.
"I feel fairly confident (about the kicking game). There's a lot of new guys in place, so there will still be some question marks as far as how they perform on game day, but as far as where we're at from a practice standpoint, I feel pretty good about it." -- Special-teams coordinator Joe Lorig.