Continuing with our series on units the Florida football team needs to improve for the 2014 season, we move to the kicking game, more specifically… the kickers. Florida went from a national leader in both punting and field goal kicking in 2012 to finishing at the bottom of the SEC in 2013 in both. Improving the kicking game is the third most important improvement necessary for Will Muschamp's Gators.
The Gators finished 4-8 in 2013 and with the first losing season since 1979. While the offense has taken most of the blame for the losses, the Gators lost four of those games by six points or less and in those four games the Gators made just five field goals in 15 attempts. In those four losses the Gators had a net punt average high of 39.2 yards per punt and a dreadfully low 29.8 yards per punt net against South Carolina.
The 10 missed field goals in those four games alone were twice as many (5) that the Gators missed in 2012. Net punting on the season was 40.1 yards per kick while in those fur losses it was 35.3 yards.
Needless to say, Florida has to improve dramatically in the kicking game in order to win games.
Head coach Will Muschamp brought in a new special team's coordinator in Coleman Hutzler. Hutzler has a fresh approach to coaching these guys up. They are meticulously going through the kicks to see what is going on, but they are also using positive reinforcement for a group that was a bit mentally fragile when it came time to put foot to leather.
Muschamp has also has brought in some mental doctors to try and help the kickers perform at the highest level. The results this spring seemed encouraging.
"We have some mental edge coaching with some guys that we let them talk to," Muschamp said of both the kickers and punters on the roster. "You know, the mind is very strong. When you have confidence in what you are doing and belief in what you're doing you may not even do it right, but you (may will) it to happen. When you start questioning yourself, on your swing, on your drop, all of a sudden, nothing is right.
Kyle Christy had a bang up year in 2012 and was an all-conference punter that season. He received All-American preseason tags in 2013, but was conspicuously off the mark in 2013 and had to be replaced by freshman Johnny Townsend.
"He dropped a punt against Tennessee and then he lost confidence," Muschamp said of Christy. "We didn't do a good job, from a coaching standpoint, of building the confidence back. So, we showed him plenty of examples from the year before when he did it right. Those are things that we did in the off-season, showed him things that he did right and then be technical about what he did wrong. He punted very well in the spring. I think much of it was mental and we tried to handle with some mental conditioning coaches coming in and talking to the guys about seeing yourself having success, seeing yourself doing it the right way, and expecting success."
Indeed, Christy consistently boomed punts in the spring. There were days when the ball sailed high in the air 70 yards, 2-3 times in a punting session. The kind of punts we looked to see in 2012.
Kicker Austin Hardin wasn't quite as efficient in the beginning of the spring when fans and media were watching, but after gaining some of the confidence necessary as the spring progressed. He got better behind closed doors. Finally, in front of a crowd at the soring game and in the stadium where he will be asked to kick in the fall, Christy went 4-4 on the day and looks to be back in gear.
Muschamp says Frankie Velez may be called upon to kick shorter field goals in the fall, but that Hardin would certainly have a shot at that as well.
In the end, the kicking game is a must to improve this season as the offense looks to take steps to get better. There is a long way to go for the kickers and punters to be good compared to last year, but it seems they are on the way.