TEMPE, Ariz. -- There's a plague in Tempe. A punting plague.
Where once football flew through the air with hang time, velocity, and accuracy, they now are shanking off left and right. Arizona State's special teams unit have been under fire all season, and no aspect has caught as much heat as the punt team.
To help examine and treat this ailment, we bring in an expert who knows a little something about blasting punts high and deep.
ASU's team average of 27.7 yards-per-punt currently ranks dead last among the 123 ranked FBS teams after finishing 7th in 2012. In fact, combining every NCAA program—FBS, FCS, Division II and Division III—ASU would rank 349th out of 353 teams. To add insult to injury, two punts have been blocked, resulting in nine points by the opposition.
Our punting expert summed up the current state of affairs perfectly.
“From what I’ve seen, and I’ll put it harshly, it’s unacceptable."
ASU's punting woes began when Hubner graduated after last season, and he certainly left big shoes to fill.
In 2012, Hubner set the single-season school record with a 47.1 yards-per-punt average, and was equally adept at booming balls for distance or pinning them with accuracy. He was named a quarterfinalist for the Ray Guy Award, and is second on the school's career punting average record list (44.0).
Punters Matt Haack and Dom Vizzare battled through fall camp to win Hubner's old job, but neither was able to assert themselves as the clear winner. Haack was the favorite, being a scholarship member of ASU's 2013 recruiting class, while Vizzare was a walk-on.
Vizzare won the job, but he did not keep it for long. He punted in the first two games before giving way to Haack, who in turn bounced around the lineup.
“Dom has got a big leg. He was at Scottsdale Community College, and I had the chance to work with him a few times," Hubner said. "He’s a big kid with a lot of weight behind him. He’s strong. I know Matt is an athlete. The kid is all over the field. He’s a lefty, which puts them at an advantage if he can get the ball in the air, because the guys back there aren’t used to the rotation of the ball. They are both very qualified guys, there is just a few things they need to work on."
Haack started against Stanford and then last week against Notre Dame. In between, placekicker Alex Garoutte handled the job, using a rugby style.
“I love Alex, but I’ve never been a big fan of the rubgy style punt, " said Hubner. "I know that the team lining up against the rugby has to honor the possibility of a fake. I’ve always been a traditional punter. Alex has a big leg too and can get a lot of air under the ball. I’ve seen it personally at practice. I was a little bit surprised when they did the rugby with him. Maybe the blocking is not as good as in the past, so they ran the rugby. I thought that was an odd change up, but out of all of the games, that may have been the most effective technique as far as yards-per-punt and net average.”
Hubner doesn't think the struggles in the punt game are talent related.
"I know that group of specialists, and I know that they all have good legs," Hubner said. "I don’t think it’s any one person or thing in particular or that they have a weak leg. They don’t. They are Division I college football players."
Rather, he feels it is a combination of developing mental focus, players trying too hard, and a plain old lack of experience.
"The inconsistencies I see really come down to a lack of game experience," Hubner said. "What makes great punters, in my opinion, are punters who can go to practice, punt the ball really well, and go into a game thinking the exact same thing. They don’t let that space between their ears get in the way of kicking the football like they normally do. Sometimes when you are out on the field, the lights are on you, there’s 80,000 screaming fans, you think you need to go at it harder and faster. From my experience, when I am relaxed and when I am fluid in my motions, the ball flies. I see those guys out there trying to kill the ball and get rid of it, and just go, go, go. The biggest things for those guys is to work on consistency and being comfortable back there. That’s a lack of game experience. You become more and more comfortable as the season goes on."
“Consistency in that drop is the biggest factor," says Hubner. "I cannot stress enough how important it is that you drop the ball in the same place every time. If you can kick a football, and somebody learns to drop the ball consistently, they are going to get the ball up in the air and to turnover every time. That is what I’d stress the most if I were coaching: Get your drop down. If you can get your drop down, and you can get your drop placed in the same spot every time, your foot is going to take the ball right out of your hand.”