BCS Title Game Matchup: The All-Important Kickers

It may come down to this. - Jonathan Daniel

When two top-ranked defenses collide, place-kickers often become both teams' best shot at putting points on the board.

It’s no secret that this year’s BCS Championship brings together two fierce defenses: Notre Dame’s held 6 opposing offenses, and Alabama, 4 opposing offenses without a touchdown; the Irish held another 3, and Alabama, another 4 offenses to just a single touchdown.

Witness the Alabama-LSU kicking-fest that capped the 2011 season. A scoring summary of last year's national championship game: FG, blocked FG, FG, FG, FG, missed FG, FG, rushing TD, missed XP. That's 15 of the game's 21 total points coming off the foot of one Jeremy Shelley, Alabama's place-kicker for distances of under about 40 yards. In part one of last season's two-part Alabama-LSU defensive showdown, the scoring looked very similar: missed FG, missed FG, blocked FG, FG, FG, FG, FG, missed FG, FG.

For the Irish this season, place-kicking has been crucial. Only one team in the country has attempted more field goals than Notre Dame, and only four teams have put more through the uprights. Sophomore place kicker Kyle Brindza is in just his first season kicking field goals, a role he did not claim until Nick Tausch was hobbled by injury in the season opener. Nonetheless, Brindza now holds the school record for field goals made in a single season (23) and has tied the school record for field goals made in a single game (5 vs. USC). Notre Dame's nineteen-year old kicker also hit the second longest field goal in Notre Dame history just a month ago (52 yards, also against USC).

With its red zone growing pains, Notre Dame has relied throughout the season on taking the points when its evolving offense has sputtered or been unable to get the ball into the endzone.

When it comes down to it, there's a very good chance that when Notre Dame and Alabama take the field on January 7th, the outcome will hinge on the legs of Kyle Brindza, Jeremy Shelley, and Cade Foster. We best get ourselves ready.

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Jeremy Shelley puts one through for Alabama.

(John David Mercer/US Presswire)

THE PLAYERS

Alabam_50_medium

Jeremy Shelley, senior

5'10", 165

2012 stats: 11/11 FGs (100%), 63/63 XP (a missed XP v. Tennessee was recorded as a "team" miss)

2009-2011 stats: 33/44 FGs (75%), 103/106 XP

Cade Foster, junior

6'1", 218

2012 stats: 4/9 FGs (44%)

2010-2011 stats: 9/18 (50%), 7/7 XP

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Notred_50_medium

Kyle Brindza, sophomore, 1st season place-kicking

6'1", 225

2012 stats: 23/31 FGs (74%), 26/27 XP

Nick Tausch, senior

6'0", 201

2012 stats: 1/1 FGs (100%), 5/6 XP

2009-2010 stats: 15/18 FGs (83%), 27/30 XP

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BREAKDOWN

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ALABAMA is 15 for 20 on field goals this season, good for 75%. Shelley has hit 63 of 63 extra points, with one "team" miss on a 64th.

The Tide split field goal kicking duties between Jeremy Shelley, who handles FGs of about 40 yards or fewer (and extra points), and Cade Foster, who handles FGs of roughly over 40 yards (and kick-offs).

Most recently: In the month of November, Alabama's kickers hit 2 of 3 FG attempts (67%).

Close games: In games the Tide won by a touchdown or less or that they lost (LSU, Texas A&M, Georgia) - all in November - they were 2 for 3 on FG attempts (67%). The makes were both from under 30 yards; the miss, from over 40.

Crucial kicks: When trailing, tied, or ahead by a touchdown or less, Bama kickers hit 5 of 7 FG attempts (71%).

Toughest competition: Against Alabama's toughest foes (Georgia, LSU, Texas A&M, and Michigan), Shelley and Foster were 4 for 6 (67%), with Foster hitting just 1 of 3 and Shelley's makes coming from fairly short 22-, 22-, and 28-yard distances.

Jeremy Shelley has made all 11 of his 11 attempted FGs for the Tide (100%) this season. All were from distances between 20 and 38 yards. His attempts came in 7 of Bama's 13 games. He only attempted more than 1 FG in 2 games in 2012. In last year's national championship game vs. LSU, Shelley hit 5 of 7 field goal attempts.

Cade Foster has made 4 of his 9 attempted FGs for the Tide (44%). All were from distances between 46 and 52 yards. His attempts came in 5 of Bama's 13 games. Foster attempted 2 FGs in 3 games and 1 in the SEC championship game. Foster has missed all 3 of his attempted FGs since September (his last was made on 9/22).

Kicking_comparison_chart_medium

NOTRE DAME is 24 for 32 on field goals this season, good for a Tide-matching 75%. They've hit 31 of 33 extra points (one miss from Tausch, one from Brindza).

Kyle Brindza, in his first season kicking field goals, has handled them all since Nick Tausch was injured in the first week of the season. Brindza also handles extra points and kick-offs (and has thrown some big blocks this season as well, including a possibly-TD-saving solo one on USC's Marquise Lee).

Most recently: In the month of November, Brindza hit 9 of 12 FG attempts (75%), with 2 of the 3 misses coming on attempts over 40 yards.

Close games: In games the Irish won by a touchdown or less (Purdue, BYU, Pitt), Brindza was 6 for 10 on FG attempts (60%).

Crucial kicks: When trailing, tied, ahead by a touchdown or less, or in overtime, Brindza hit 20 of 26 FG attempts (77%).

Toughest competition: Against Notre Dame's toughest foes (Stanford, Oklahoma, Michigan, and USC - 2 away games, 3 in primetime and the 4th in heavy rain), Brindza was 12 for 14 (86%), with one miss in 6 against USC and one miss in 4 against Oklahoma after a low snap and muddled hold.

Kyle Brindza has made 23 of his 31 attempted FGs for the Irish (74%). His longest was 52 yards. Brindza's attempts came in 10 of Notre Dame's 12 games. He attempted at least 2 FGs in all 10 of those games in 2012.

Brindza hit all his attempts in 3 games, missed 1 attempt in each of 6 games, and missed 2 attempts in one game. When kicking from distances under 40 yards, Brindza is 19 of 23 (83%). At distances over 40 yards, he's just 4 of 8 (50%), though at least one of those 4 misses was on a low snap and sloppy hold.

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Kyle Brindza walks off the field after gaining three for the Irish.

(Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

EDGE

When it comes down to it, this is an even but complicated match-up. Alabama has the edge on field goals under 40 yards, Notre Dame, over 40 yards. Foster and Shelley have the edge in close games, Brindza, on crucial field goal tries and against his team's toughest opponents. If Shelley trots out onto the field on January 7th to kick from under 40 yards, smart money would bet he makes it - he's made all 11 attempts this season, after all - but he has only had 11 attempts this season. Brindza has had almost 3 times as many shots in 2012, and 4 times as many attempts in the last month of the season.

That added experience, not just for Brindza, but for the whole Fighting Irish kicking unit, may give them an edge if field goals do wind up playing a key role on January 7th, especially if they're called on repeatedly. Shelley may be 11 for 11, and he certainly did well in last year's championship game, but I'll take the kicker who hit 5 of 6 in hostile territory in Notre Dame's high-pressure, primetime, last game of the season. We're all hoping (really, really hoping) for Irish touchdowns, but if they don't come - and if our defense makes the Tide put the game on Shelley's and Foster's legs - we're in pretty fine shape to put the ball through the uprights.

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