Brad Stephens: WKU kicking game still a nightmare

WKU’s sophomore kicker Jesse Roy misses a field goal during the WKU’s first home football game of the 2012 season against Austin Peay Governors at L.T. Smith Stadium. 

Brad Stephens

Willie Taggart said he was going to get a kicker.

It was December of 2011, right after WKU finished a 7-5 season that had been a positive one in so many areas for the Toppers.

Quarterback Kawaun Jakes had made strides. Running back Bobby Rainey set all kinds of records. Linebacker Andrew Jackson had turned into a bona fide star.

But in one crucial facet of the game, field goal kicking, the Toppers looked more like a high school team than a major college football program.

Trot out the kicker, close your eyes and hope he makes it. 15 times out of 20, the team’s three kickers, Monte Merrick, Jesse Roy and Casey Tinius, didn’t.

So in light of WKU’s Football Bowl Subdivision-worst 5-for-20 kicking performance, Taggart told the media in December one of his main recruiting goals was to go get a kicker.

“We gotta get a kicker,” Taggart said at the time. “Then we’ll get the best available players after that.”

Two months later, Taggart inked his Class of 2012. There wasn’t a scholarship kicker to be found.

“We have some pretty good kickers on our football team to make it competitive and show everyone they can get it done,” Taggart said in February on National Signing Day. “We got some guys that’s here and we feel like we can get it done with ’em and we will.”

Fast forward seven months and those kickers didn’t get it done on Saturday in the Toppers’ 49-10 win over Austin Peay.

Roy, the lone holdover out of last year’s trio, missed a 34-yard attempt wide right on the game’s first drive.

One quarter later he pushed a 23-yard gimme past the right upright.

Out goes Roy, insert newcomer Garrett Schwettman.

But that didn’t help, as Schwettman clanked a straight-away, 36-yard field goal off the right upright.

Three kicks, none coming from farther than 36 yards out, and three misses.

That’s hardly getting it done.

Obviously those misses wouldn’t have made much impact on the final score, as Football Championship Subdivision opponent Austin Peay was physically overmatched at every position by Taggart’s Toppers.

But what happens when WKU plays an important Sun Belt Conference game later this year?

Say the Toppers are down by two to Arkansas State late in the fourth quarter, facing 4th and 6 at the 25.

If you’re Taggart, do trust Roy in that spot? Judging by his performances last year and then tonight, probably not.

Do you trust Schwettman? He didn’t take advantage of his chance on Saturday.

Taggart took the “grin-and-bear-it” approach after the game when asked about his kickers.

“You make your biggest improvement from Game 1 to Game 2,” Taggart said. “We’re banking on Game 2 being a lot better.

“I thought Schwettman did a good job kicking the ball for us. We’re going to get better at it. We’re going to get better. I’m not concerned.”

He may say he’s not concerned, but I can imagine there’s some butterflies that float through his stomach when he sends one of his kickers out on the field, just as the butterflies float through the stomachs of the WKU fan base.

The No. 1 job for a kicker is to be reliable. Trot on the field, “do something,” as Taggart would say, then jog off and wait for your next chance.

Right now there’s not a single kicker on the roster you’d consider reliable.

The Toppers may not have needed their kickers Saturday, as they could’ve beat Austin Peay with one arm tied behind their backs.

But later on this year, when things are close and the situation is important, someone has to put the ball through the uprights.