Is Alabama's kicking game finally finding its legs?
When Will Reichard drilled that 52-yard field goal to end the first half against Georgia on Oct. 17, he didn’t just help reverse momentum in Alabama’s signature win of 2020 so far.
The sophomore Crimson Tide kicker also reminded folks in Tuscaloosa what a reliable leg looks like.
“To have a good kicker is really, really a positive,” coach Nick Saban said Saturday. “I think it’s a weapon, and I think Will has done a really, really good job so far.”
Indeed, kickers are kind of like referees or waiters; the worse the experience you have with ’em, the more likely you are to remember their names.
There are also about 100 or so programs that would be thrilled if the kicking game was their chief on-field concern at present.
Even in the best of times, Alabama’s kicking game has been at best a point of aggravation for Saban and the rest of the Alabama football consortium. When the Tide haven’t been playing for championships, kickers have been in the top 5 pain points discussed by fans on social media and talk radio.
So Reichard’s 6-for-6 showing — which includes successful 39- and 24-yard kicks in the 4th quarter Saturday against Tennessee — is a breath of fresh air followed by a sigh of relief. Of FBS kickers who are perfect so far in 2020, only Louisiana Tech’s Jacob Barnes has attempted more field goals (7) than Reichard.
Reichard is also 32-for-32 on extra-point attempts.
“It takes a lot of pressure off of you in a lot of situations where you feel very confident that you can kick a field goal from, let’s say, 35 yards and in,” Saban said. “And that’s very comforting, because a lot of times you get in situations and there’s nothing more demoralizing for a team when you have an opportunity to kick a field goal, you’re already upset because you didn’t score a touchdown or didn’t continue and then you miss it, and it’s really a little bit of a psychological letdown.”
Alabama knows that all too well.
Since 2012, the Tide haven’t ranked higher than 54th nationally in field-goal percentage and have missed at least 1/4 of their attempts every season. The past 2 years, Bama kickers have gone 96.4% and 90.2% on extra-point tries.
That ranked 86th in FBS in 2019, and 120th in 2018.
Punting remains a work in progress. Alabama ranked 118th in 2019 and 114th in 2018 in average net punting (yards from scrimmage a punt travels minus the opponent’s return yardage). Its No. 88 mark this year — 33.42 — is actually lower than either of those seasons.
But due to field position and data sample size, successful punting can be hard to quantify. Good teams, in general, don’t have to punt often, and when they do, they aren’t necessarily asking a punter to boot the ball as far as he can.
The Crimson Tide replaced Sam Johnson with Air Force transfer Charlie Scott on Saturday, and Saban was pleased with the results: 2 punts with an average of 34.5 yards.
“Charlie punts the ball high. He’s a little more consistent,” Saban said. “We just weren’t getting the kind of consistency in performance that we needed. There’s a lot of things that go with punting. It’s how fast you get it off, it’s how much hang time you have and can you put it in the right spots where we have the best opportunities to cover. And I think we got that done [Saturday].”
Kickoffs need some work, too. Reichard and Allen have split opportunities there, and Alabama’s 59.81 yards per kick rank 75th among 101 active FBS teams.
Reichard sent 2 kickoffs out of bounds Saturday.
In an era when it’s easier than ever to make opponents start from their own 25-yard line, that’s unacceptable. “But,” Saban said, “I’d rather have a good field-goal kicker and work on kickoff coverage than have it the other way around.”
Enter Reichard, who appears to have recovered fully from a hip injury that limited him to 5 games as a freshman. Remember, he was recruited to fix these woes. The Hoover native made 4-of-7 field-goal tries and 21-of-22 PATs last fall.
He hasn’t been interviewed much and isn’t prone to flaunt his personality on social media — a possible exception being Instagram photos of his participation in Bama’s postgame cigar tradition following victories over rival Tennessee.
But the way things have gone during the past decade or so, a recognizable foot is much better than a prominent face in this case, anyway.