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Boston College Football: Improving The Kicking Game

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BC has a new special teams coach. At least he doesn't have his work cut out for him or anything.

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

In all my years on this planet, I've come up with two hard, incontrovertible facts: 1) There is a God. 2) He cannot kick field goals.

The first point is always open for debate, but let's not do that here. The second fact, however, backs up the first. Every time BC sent out their kicking game for anything in 2014, we all said the same thing, "Please God no" or "For the love of God..." or "God help us..."

So, God exists. He cannot kick field goals.

Boston College has a new special teams coach for the upcoming year. Coleman Hutzler comes to The Heights after Florida removed Will Muschamp from its head coaching position. He joins an ex-Gator in Steve Addazio, a guy who committed himself to fixing the kicking game from the moment the extra point went wide right against Penn State.

I've rewatched Mike Knoll's missed PAT several times to try and break it down. I've rewatched several other kicks, and I've rewound and tried to find various missed opportunities and missed points of contention. I don't think I've come up with the formula for what BC needs to do, but for what it's worth, I've at least learned some things about the play itself.

People usually point their finger directly at the kicker, but an extra point and field goal are broken down into the three key parts: The Snap, The Hold, and The Kick. Each player—the long snapper, the holder, and the kicker—have to do their part. Each are equally important, and each are equally valuable.

The snapper is the reason Zak Deossie from the New York Giants is a Pro Bowler, the reason why Ryan Pontbriand was drafted in the fifth round. Tyler Schmitt, a 2008 draft choice of Seattle, was drafted exclusively as a long snapper, the first time it ever happened. He needs to be able to throw a perfect spiral backwards between his legs seven yards or deeper. He needs to hit the spot right where the holder's hand is, and he needs to do it in such a way that the ball gets down FAST. The holder needs enough time to do his job while the kicker is taking his steps into kick.

The holder needs to be able to get that ball down with the laces out. He needs to spin the ball with both hands, take the back hand off the ball, expose the whole ball to be kicked, all in a split second. He needs to make sure that he doesn't tilt the ball too far forward or backwards for the kicker. The holder needs to get the ball down so the kicker can, as they say, kick the bloody piss out of it.

Then there's the kicker. There's more technique than we think: a kicker has to know where he's going to angle it low or high based on the wind and be able to kick it perfectly. College kicking is actually tougher because of the wide hash marks (though it's not an excuse for the blown extra points). One thing I learned is that kickers have to be intelligent, unless they have Sebastian Janikowski's ability to blast it from 67 yards while still hammered from the night before.

To be honest, I don't think there's as much work as we all make out for the new special teams coach. While the eight extra point misses is beyond problematic, it can be broken down to several parts, each easily correctable as 2015 approaches.

For starters, Knoll wasn't the worst option BC had at kicker. One of the top kicking recruits in the nation, he entered BC with the leg strength to hit both FBS level field goals and punts. The book on him all but said he would cause nightmares for returners with his left foot. The scouting report said he needed to work on his field goal motion, that he needed refinement.

Knoll as a placekicker wasn't horrible. Up until the Penn State game, he was actually BC's most reliable kicker. He was 10-for-11 during the regular season, going 6-for-6 in BC's last two games. He stabilized the position when it was at its most volatile, and he clearly won the job after Joey Launceford all but put it up for grabs. He missed a kick against Syracuse, but he was good against FSU from 40.

The problem with the kicking game wasn't Knoll. The problem was continuity between kickers and the ability to get into a rhythm. The special teams didn't pull the trigger to play Knoll until October, and they didn't stay with him consistently. He didn't get any kick attempts against Wake Forest, Virginia Tech, or Louisville, and the fractured nature didn't allow him to get into any kind of flow.

Knoll's problem with mechanics could've been worked out with a couple of misses throughout the season, but the coaching staff didn't fix one big one: his plant. Knoll's two shanks on extra points were the direct result of bad planting. It's less obvious against Clemson, but against Penn State, he clearly isn't able to get his plant foot flush. He steps down onto the side of his foot, which results in pulling his body all the way to the right. Since his plant foot isn't actually, well, planted, his whole body bails out just enough to not kick it flush.

The plant foot issue can be traced to other underlying causes. First, the field sucked. Yankee Stadium was chewed up beyond belief. Even though a Division I kicker should be able to kick regardless of conditions, the field was destroyed. It was cold, and the pushing and shoving right at the spot where he was supposed to kick resulted in pot holes galore. There was no way that field was going to stay solid under his field, resulting in his slipping and sliding.

Knoll also never had a chance to see the ball clearly. The holder, Tyler Murphy, ended up having to do his hold backwards because #98 is a lefty. Even with Knoll kicking the last couple of weeks in the season, Murphy never looked comfortable spinning the ball with his opposite hand. As a righty, Murphy needs to be able to have his dominant hand on top of the ball.

For Launceford, that means Murphy is holding with his front hand and spinning with his back hand. Murphy will remove the back hand with the spin to place the laces out. That allows for a great look at the pigskin and the ability to smash the entire face of the ball. For Knoll, that means the hold hand is actually in the back and the spin is in front. It means there is a zero percent chance he is getting a solid look at the entire face of the football, which means he's essentially kicking at only half of a ball.

That doesn't absolve either one of them of sin, but it also doesn't mean either one of them should be blown up for their role. Launceford's struggles forced the Eagles to go to Knoll prematurely, and to hold for a lefty kicker was completely unnatural for Murphy. He had to do everything in reverse, which caused his holds to be less than stellar. It meant Knoll's kicking ability decreased, something only completely highlighted by his true freshman status.

Moving forward, Boston College needs to develop chemistry between the holder and the kicker. Knoll should be the guy moving forward, but whether or not he stays as the guy is dependent on if he can work on some type of chemistry with his holder. If it's Darius Wade, that might be a positive since Wade's left-handed and can operate in the reverse world Murphy struggled with. If it's anybody else, there needs to be conversation, long practices, and holds on all types of surfaces against different conditions.

That means practice needs to take place everywhere, not just on the Alumni Stadium turf. It needs to go out into the sandy grass of Shea Field, and it needs to take place in the rain or the cold of the winter. There needs to be an emphasis on bad weather, and there needs to be an emphasis in spring practice on the communication between the entities. This is a very fixable issue for BC. Whether or not it gets fixed will come down to pure and simple coaching.