Today, HLS kicks off a new series of pre-season analysis: “Know Thyself, Know Thy Enemy.” In it, we will be comparing and contrasting the likely starter at selected positions with the “best” of our opponents in 2012. So, without further ado and to get your week started off on the right foot, let’s look at the punter and kicker positions.
The Irish: Ben Turk will probably be punting for the Irish in 2012. A 5’11” senior, Ben punted the ball 53 times last year, averaging 40.30 yards per punt, for a total of 2136 yards. He started badly against USF and Michigan, but improved as the season went on. He put in his best display in the bowl loss to the ‘Noles, when he punted seven times, averaging 40.7 yards per punt, and puting four inside the 20. Ranked 62nd overall among FBS punters, Ben is ranked 2nd on the team in the bench press, able to bang out 29 reps of 225 pounds. His performance in the Blue Gold was very solid, averaging 46 yards in three punts.
The Enemy: The best punter the Irish will face in 2012 will likely be BYU’s Riley Stephenson. Riley averaged 42.65 yards per punt and punted 47 times for a total of 1985 yards. Against Tulsa, in the Armed Forces Bowl, he punted eight times, nailing two 50+ yarders and putting seven inside the 20. Statistically, Riley had a better year than Oklahoma’s Tress Way, his closest rival among ND’s 2012 opponents.
Analysis: Punting is one of those curious parts of the game where statistics will never tell the whole story. A fumbled snap, a bad shank or a shallow drive can flop a team’s field position and snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. When Ben is “on,” he’s good, but he’s not great. At least, he hasn’t shown great yet. I question, too, how long a leash he’ll be on in favor of Kyle Brindza, who’s already handling kickoffs.
The Irish: Remember Nick Tausch? Lou Somogyi has called Nick the “Wally Pipp” of placekicking, and it’s an apt equation, given Tausch’s David Ruffer-forced absence from the game these last two seasons. Who knew that a walk on would go on to become a Lou Groza Award Finalist? In any event, Ruffer’s gone and Nick is going to try to recapture his 2009 form, when he hit 14 straight and went 5 for 5 against Washington, including one from 34 yards and one from 40.
The Enemy: Michael Hunnicutt at Oklahoma is going to be the best placekicker the Irish will see in 2012. A 6’0″ sophomore, Michael took over the starting job three games into his freshman season and went 21 for 24, a conversion rate of 87.5%. His 21 FG’s tied the Oklahoma school record and broke the Big 12 freshman record. His longest was a 53 yarder against Kansas State.
Analysis: Like the punter, the kicker is the guy you want to see run out, do his thing and get off the field. Unfortunately for the Irish, other than David Ruffer’s remarkable 2010 season, Notre Dame hasn’t had that. Nick Tausch has a decent enough leg (his long is 46) and he’s demonstrated he can carry the load, so it will be really interesting to watch him make a name for himself outside of his association with David Ruffer.