What's Eating Connor Barth?

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – So what in the name of Jan Stenerud is bothering UNC's once-charmed place-kicker Connor Barth? Nothing that won't be worked out soon; or at least so believes the coaching staff who is behind him 100 percent as he works through the self-admitted worst slump of his career.

"In high school it was pretty much a breeze," Barth said. "I may have missed four or five field goals in a row, but it's just something you have to go through. I'm glad it happened early so I know what it's like."

Last year, Barth was All-ACC Honorable Mention and second-team freshman All-America. Entering this season, Carolina had lots of concerns, but kicking was absolutely not one of them.

As a freshman, Barth nailed 14-of-18 field goals attempts and 35-of-37 PATs. And with the game-winner over fourth-ranked Miami, he could have run for student body president and likely won.

The world appeared to be his oyster.

But having converted only 3-of-11 of his field goal attempts so far this year, Barth, a recruited scholarship athlete, hardly resembles the hero of last season's 31-28 upset of the Hurricanes, whose 42-yarder touched off a wild Kenan Stadium celebration and ultimately jump-started the Tar Heels' 2004 season.

What's more disconcerting is he's just 2-of-4 from 20-39 yards. He's 1-for-7 beyond that. He is working with a new snapper and holder combination this season, as Greg Warren is now in the NFL and Roger Heinz and Jared Hall are unavailable. But at no time has Barth or his coaches ever pointed to the snap-holder exchange as an issue. Looking at the tape, it would appear the ball is being placed adequately – at the very least – for Barth's kicks.

"I just need to work on the mechanics a little more," Barth said following Wednesday's practice.

Barth said the emphasis this week has been on properly calculating the placement of his steps on his approach to the ball and keeping his head down.

For the latter, John Bunting spoke during Tuesday's weekly press conference of a drill in which holder Andrew Wasserman holds up one or two fingers on his hand while Barth is kicking through the ball. It's simple; if Barth was able to recognize the number, he kept his head down long enough.

"He's kicking well in practice, and I expect that Connor Barth will come out of this," Bunting said. "I still have a great deal of confidence in him."

But is it mechanical? Or does it more resemble, say, a golfer getting the so-called ‘Yips' when approaching a relatively short putt; or a fundamentally sound catcher with a great arm for throwing out base stealers, but being unable to throw the ball back to the pitcher without an adventure?

Both Bunting and Barth would like to agree that is not the case. However, Bunting admits he knows about as much about kickers as he does about moving household furniture. That's understandable; as it's almost hard for Bunting to conceal a snicker when discussing a kicker's role in a game's outcome. And, up until this point, none of Barth's misses can be directly attributed to any of the Tar Heels' three losses this season.

Although some might argue his 54-yard attempt, which came up short in the fourth quarter versus Virginia on Saturday, was ill-advised considering the game's circumstances. Had it not been for the Tar Heels' defense making miraculous stop after stop down the stretch in UNC's 7-5 win, the decision to try a field goal from that distance, in that situation, might have come back to bite Bunting.

One thing is for certain, there is still an expansive crevasse separating Barth and No. 2 walk-on Lane Clemmons.

"It's awesome to have the support of the whole team," Barth said. "I'm just in a little slump right now. I'm going to get out of it and they know that. I'm a good kicker, I know what I've got to do to get better, and I'm just glad they have the confidence in me to come out there and do it every Saturday.

"It's just something that makes you stronger and mentally tough. It's kind of good that it happened."

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