Sometime next fall, likely near dusk on what will later be described in Irish chronicles as either a "sweltering" or "crisp" Saturday afternoon, the sophomore kicker will line up to attempt a game-winning or tying field goal on Notre Dame's last possession.
Tausch's freshman season of '09 was eventful, beginning with a flubbed first career field goal attempt in, of all places, The Big House. He bounced back from that missed chip shot with consecutive offerings through the uprights – two vs. the Wolverines from 34 and 42 yards – and then 12 more. 14 in a row before his next miss, breaking a program record that stood since the 1982 season.
But kickers aren't remembered for streaks (unless they're extraordinary). They're not remembered for kick-offs unless they're exceptionally short (Tausch's kick-offs averaged a landing point between the 8-and-9-yard line as his 61.8 average can attest) or go through the end zone (Tausch did not record a touchback in 35 kick-offs). And they're certainly not remembered when 16 of their 17 career field goal attempts occur before the 4th Quarter.
They're remembered for the game-winners, and Tausch attempted just one 3-pointer in the final period last season, a 24-yarder that drew the Irish to within four of Washington with 12 minutes to play. In fact, Tausch's only "clutch" field goal attempt last season was a career-best 46-yarder late in the 3rd quarter vs. Michigan State – it put the Irish ahead by 9 points but the tenor of that contest changed multiple times hence.
He has not yet attempted a game-winning, late game-tying, game-changing or overtime boot. He's remembered as much for two momentum-killing first-half misses vs. Navy as he is for his freshman record.
That will likely change when we reconvene to review the 2010 season next January.
Tausch's Season Outlook
"You have 100 guys out there running into each other for three hours, then some guy who wears Birkenstocks runs out and tries to win it."
Former San Francisco 49ers offensive tackle Harris Barton uttered those words when his new teammate, rookie kicker Doug Brien, missed a potential game-winning field goal in the Hoosier Dome to begin the 1995 NFL season.
I doubt Tausch's footwear of choice 15 years later is the same as Brien's, but from the fans' perspective, Barton's comments ring true, as Tausch's 2010 season will be defined by his success or failure when the clock ticks down.
Head coach Brian Kelly and Notre Dame's new special teams coordinator Mike Elston will have a different set of criteria to measure the promising sophomore, as they know games change on far more than one play, but even coaches forgive past mistakes when kickers come through when it counts.
Tausch's competition will come from walk-on David Ruffer, who, when pressed into duty after Tausch "pulled up lame" in warm-ups at Pittsburgh (one week after the Navy misses) proceeded to drill 5 of 5 field goal attempts and register the team's only touchback of the season over the next three contests.
Former starter Brandon Walker (he of the 1-7 FG start but 13-17 finish in '08) will also figure in the mix after sitting out last season due to a bad back.
According to Tausch's former head coach, the freshman won the job "rather significantly" last August. His 14-17 performance in the weeks that followed suggest that he was up to the task.
We'll know more about Tausch when he lines up for his first game-winner: ready to send one of two fan bases into temporary despair on a Saturday night next fall.
Tausch at his best in 2009
- Michigan: Bounced back from shanking his first career attempt with consecutive field goals from 34 and 42 yards out.
- Michigan State: After missing a PAT earlier in the contest, Tausch nailed a career-best 46-yard boot to extend Notre Dame's lead to 9 points with 5:34 remaining in the 3rd Quarter. In addition, Tausch's kick-offs sailed to the 11, 4, 3, 3, 11, and 7 yard-line, respectively – a departure from his shorter kick-offs in the season's first two contests.
- Purdue: Three Tausch kickoffs graced the goal line (all returned) while two others landed inside the Boilers' 8-yard line.
- Washington: Deserved a game ball for his 5-5 effort in the team's 37-30 comeback overtime win over the Huskies. Tausch connected on at least one field goal each quarter including 9 straight ND points to give the Irish their first lead of the contest midway through the second quarter.
Tausch's moments to forget from 2009
- Michigan State: Tausch was bailed out after a botched PAT earlier in the contest with Irish defensive tackle Ethan Johnson blocked a Spartans point after later in the contest. The Irish won by three points, but without Johnson's efforts, would have likely had the game decided by a MSU mid-range field goal, as the Spartans reached the ND 18-yard line with one minute remaining.
- Bye Week: Tausch lost his kickoff duties to walk-on competitor David Ruffer.
- Navy: Missed consecutive offerings after hitting a program-record 14 straight heading into the contest. The misses were exacerbated by the team's repeated failures in the red zone and the 23-21 final score in favor of the Middies.
- UConn: After "pulling up lame" in pre-game warm-ups at Pittsburgh, a deemed-healthy Tausch informed head coach Charlie Weis he was unable to go as the team headed to the locker room prior to kick-off. Tausch sat out the following week at Stanford as well.