Splitting the Pipes

Irisheyes.com continues its "10 for a Title" series examining 10 crucial game elements necessary for Notre Dame if the Irish are to earn a BCS Championship victory over Alabama. Next in the series: perfection in the kicking game.

Sophomore Kyle Brindza connected on a school-record 23 field goals this season. Its the eight he missed that offer a point of concern, or more accurate, seven of them.

Brindza missed offerings from 34, 28, 35, 34, and 40 (three times). A miss from such distances would greatly impact Notre Dame in a game where points are at a premium, but as important, field position, too.

It's likely the Irish offense will set Brindza up with two to four opportunities inside 40 yards and another potential offering from long range. Its paramount he convert these so-called chip-shots from 40 and in, while head coach Brian Kelly's discretion on longer offerings (44 yards-plus) could play a key role in keeping Alabama off the scoreboard as well.

An errant field goal doesn't only represent a missed opportunity for points, it gives the opponent a shorter field to work with, and Notre Dame's defense thrived when its foes faced drives of 60 yards or longer in 2012. In 115 opportunities, just two ended in touchdown drives (Navy and USC).

"He's been clutch for us. If there's one word, he's been pretty clutch for us," said Kelly of his sophomore place-kicker. "When we've needed that big kick when the game was on the line, he's delivered every single time. What I like about him, he doesn't get rattled.

"He may miss one here or there, but there's generally not a pattern for him. He breaks that pattern of missing one and he'll come back and make one. That's good to have somebody that doesn't get down on himself and can fight through a miss here or there. And he's only going to get better."

Brindza's performance under pressure isn't in question. But in a one-game scenario, consistency is, as the first-year placekicker offered at least one errant field goal in six of the last seven games he's attempted a field goal.

Brindza prides himself on the ability to bounce back from those disappointments.

"It's something I've always had, kind of staying mentally composed," he said. "Its one of the biggest things I've learned this year, missing a kick and being able to bounce back."

He won't have that luxury Monday night, though Brindza offered his personal take on why the bright lights of the national championship game won't matter when he sets up seven yards offset left behind the snapper

"My soccer coach always said, 'It's just another pitch. It's just another goal. Same width, same height, same field, same venue, pretty much. Just with different fans.'

"That applies to this game, just as it did at USC or Oklahoma (Brindza was 5-6 and 3-4, respectively), but now its a national championship. Its just another field goal. Whether it be a far kick or a short kick, to have confidence and truly understand I've done it before."

Brindza set a school record for field goals made and attempted. He connected on a game-winner another to send one into overtime, and four others that helped clinch contests late.

Monday night he'll need to be perfect, and Kelly's decision-making process on fourth down in plus-territory will play a major role.

(Note: Click the links below for the first six game keys in our "10 for a Title" series):

#1 Hit for one score from outside the red zone

#2 Plus-One Turnovers

#3 Return of the Man?

#4 Even Steven

#5 Status Quo

#6 Cashing In

IrishIllustrated.com Top Stories