A special problem for special teams

After senior P Brock Harvey broke his collarbone against Colorado, the Tigers were left with three walk-ons to handle the kicking duties. Sophomore Matt Hoenes made his collegiate debut against the Buffaloes; get his thoughts on his performance and junior Joe Tantarelli's outlook on his recent kicking struggles.

Some coaches believe that you should plan to lose one game for every true freshman you start. While top-flight freshmen like Oklahoma's Adrian Peterson expose the flaws of such a theory, a corollary is the impact starting walk-ons has on a team.

If a true freshman is worth one loss, how many is a walk-on worth? Two? More?

Missouri has had success with these players lately, including walk-on-turned-NFLer Michael Harden and Michael Matheny, who handled the kicking duties the past two seasons. Now, after senior P Brock Harvey broke his collarbone against Colorado on Saturday, three walk-ons will handle the kicking duties.

Pinkel does not seem too concerned with the situation. Harvey will undoubtedly be missed, but the coaching staff appears to be comfortable with sophomore Matt Hoenes, who will hold the starting job for at least the next six weeks as Harvey recuperates.

"I think Matt Hoenes went in and did an excellent job for the first time ever doing something like that," Pinkel said. "We've just got to handle it the right way. You just don't have piles of punters lined up, you don't. Matt's worked real hard at it since last spring and I think he'll do a good job."

Hoenes averaged 35 yards on his two punts against Colorado, a fair effort, given the circumstances. Still, Hoenes felt the need to apologize to Pinkel for his performance after the game.

Before the game started, Hoenes said, he never would have imagined he would see action against the Buffaloes.

"I was a little concerned," he said. "It's not a high-intensity position. You're not thinking that you're gonna get hurt. I came into the game not even contemplating that I'd be playing."

Hoenes had a frightening experience over the summer that makes punt coverage, which is how Harvey was injured, look like a walk in the park by comparison. While working at a construction site in Jefferson City in July, Hoenes tumbled down an elevator shaft he was building, falling four stories and landing on his left side on a concrete pillar. Amazingly, he only suffered a cracked rib and was fine after a brief trip to the hospital.

"I never realized four stories could go so quickly," Hoenes said of the fall. "I don't think I had a single thought as I was going down. I don't know if a sound came out of me. I was at the bottom at no time…

"That's something I wouldn't recommend experiencing to anyone."

Junior Joe Tantarelli had an experience Saturday that he would likely not recommend to any kicker. After a perfect first three games of the season, Tantarelli made just 1-of-4 field goals he attempted against Colorado.

Tantarelli was not too concerned about the effort, however, as he called it nothing more a bump in the road.

"That's all I can explain it," he said. "The last two kicks, I thought I hit well. Sure enough, those were the ones that I probably missed the most. The first two kicks, I didn't hit well and I fortunately made one of them. The second two, I think I just tried to overcompensate or something like that. they honestly felt good when they left my foot."

None of the kicks was a gimme. After not attempting a kick of more than 39 yards coming into the game, all four of Tantarelli's attempts Saturday were from 39 yards or more. Tantarelli actually made the longest kick of the day, converting from 45 yards before missing from 44, 42 and 39.

"If I can (makes kicks from that distance) on a consistent basis out in practice, I gotta go out and do that in a game," Tantarelli said. "To me, there's no excuse for missing those. Those are well within my range…

"I've already put it behind me."

Pinkel said the coaching staff still believes in Tantarelli and that any negative discussion about his capabilities is unwarranted.

"I believe Joe's a real good field-goal kicker," he said. "Everybody was so elated with how well he was doing; now for anybody to sit there and say he's not any good is not fair to him. I think he is good."

Pinkel suggested a better performance from the Missouri offense--which moved the ball well against Colorado but sputtered late in drives--would have helped Tantarelli immensely.

"If we move the ball up a little closer, that might help a little bit," he said. "If we score some touchdowns, that might help a little bit. Some of those misses just missed by a foot-and-a-half. We didn't give him any chip shots."

While the Harvey injury was frightening and disappointing for the Tiger specialists, Tantarelli said it could not remain an issue in his mind.

"If you're worried about getting injured out there, it's just gonna make you tentative," he said. "I always had a coach who told me, ‘If you're worried about getting hurt, chances are you're gonna get hurt.' You just get tentative."

Which is probably how Hoenes feels around elevators these days.


Black & Gold Illustrated Top Stories