Monday, March 2, 2009

2009 Nebraska position outlook: kicker & punter

One story in a Wine Country Husker series, looking at position breakdowns for the Nebraska Cornhuskers for the 2009 season. Today, we look at kickers and punters:

Looking back: The Huskers rarely seemed to trust the kicking game in a dire situation under former head coach Bill Callahan. Did that ever change under Bo Pelini?

Flash back to the post Thanksgiving Day against Colorado with the Big Red trailing the hated Colorado Buffaloes 31-30 with under two minutes left. Nebraska faced fourth-and-25 at the Colorado 40. What do you do? Go for the first down or kick a 57-yard field goal? Both are low percentage plays.

Leave it to Alex Henery to tell Pelini, “I can make it.” Keep in mind Adi Kunalic was the kickoff specialist meant to handle long field goals, yet Henery volunteered and deftly nailed the 57-yarder through the uprights to put the Huskers in front 33-31.

In 2007, Husker kickers actually went 9-for-9 on field goal attempts with nary a try going beyond 50 yards and only one outside the 40-yard plateau. Kunalic accounted for 28 touchbacks on 66 kickoffs that season. Punter Dan Titchner averaged a solid 41.3 yards per punt with 16 of 49 punts going inside the 20. Problem is the defense that year was useless when it came to stopping opponents.

Henerey handled all of the placekicking chores while Kunalic handled the kickoff duties. Henerey went 18-of-21 while Kunalic kicked off 81 times for 29 touchbacks. Titchner’s game suffered just a bit with his average dropping to 39.3 yards per boot but 13 of his 42 punts went inside the 20.

Looking ahead: With Kunalic and Henery both being juniors, the Husker placekicking game is the least of their worries.

The biggest concern is replacing Titchner even though his numbers slipped. Could Henery pull double duty as a punter and kicker? He did such at Omaha Burke High. Henery brings the intangibles that Nebraska walk-ons have, which Pelini covets. Or will Nebraska turn to redshirt freshman Brett Maher?

The Huskers have had good luck finding players to plug in at punter. With inexperience at quarterback, the Huskers will need to find a viable option at punter when the offense sputters and will also need Henery to continue developing into the clutch weapon he has become.

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