Trying To Get Back In The Groove

The off week has arrived at a good time for a senior on the Auburn football team.

Auburn, Ala.--Five games into the 2002 campaign, preseason All-American Damon Duval is still trying to get in the groove as a field goal kicker. The senior has been punting well, but his performance as a field goal kicker has not been up to Duval's normal standards.

Playing with a slight groin pull on Saturday night vs. Syracuse, Duval was limited to just two of his three normal assignments. He handled the field goals and punting, but Philip Yost was given the kickoff team assignment. Against the Orangemen, Duval was 1-2 as a field goal kicker and averaged a very un-Duval-like 39.8 yards on five punts to bring his season average down to 46.6 yards per punt. He didn't have his normal explosive leg drive on his punts or kicks so the off week couldn't come at a better time for the fifth-year senior.

Damon Duval

The most disappointing part of the game was having a 27-yard chip shot field goal blocked in the first overtime period that would have won the game. That dropped him to just 3-7 for the year on field goals and probably ended any chance of winning the Lou Groza Award as national kicker of the year. He was one of three finalists for that honor as a junior and in preseason was kicking field goals so well that he was almost automatic on anything shorter than 50 yards and was making 60-yarders with regularity.

"I definitely wanted another chance to kick again in the overtime," Duval says. "I know I hit the ball well on the kick that was blocked. They had a good push on their middle block. I am glad we won the game, but I am so down on myself right now. Everything was starting to go in the right direction and then to go out and get one blocked in overtime to win the game... Everybody is saying don't worry about it, it is not your fault, but to me it is my fault. I put the blame on myself."

A perfectly timed leap by a Syracuse defender got one hand on the field goal. "The play before the field goal, we ran Carnell (Williams) to the middle of the field to set up a good angle for Damon," says head coach Tommy Tuberville. "I am not worried about Damon. He is going to be fine."

Duval's groin injury came into play on punt coverage, too. With his exceptional speed for a punter, he is normally a very good last line of defense on punt or kickoff coverage. However, when Syracuse's Jamel Riddle found a hole in the punt coverage after fumbling Duval's punt, the Auburn senior was the last guy who had a shot at the speedy Riddle. However, Duval couldn't make a play.

"I would like to think that I could have got him without the injury, but that is no excuse," Duval says. "I went out and played the best I could. I can't blame it on anything."

Duval says the key fact about the game is that the Tigers found a way to rally from 17 points down and beat a Syracuse team that played well on Saturday night. "It is good for this team to get into a physical, dogfight of a game and have to play hard until the last play of overtime to win," Duval says. "We knew it could be that type of game coming in.

"We have a week off to get prepared for a tough part of our schedule with SEC opponents yet to come," Duval says. "We are going to have to get everything ready." With no game this Saturday, Duval and the Tigers will practice through Friday and take Saturday off. That night they can watch their next opponent, the Arkansas Razorbacks, who will play a Saturday night ESPN televised game at Tennessee.

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