USC: Alejandro Maldonado

Spring position breakdown: Punters

March, 11, 2014
Mar 11
12:00
PM PT
Our look at position groups in the Pac-12 concludes with punters.

Arizona: Drew Riggleman is back after handling all of the punting responsibilities last season. He averaged 40.1 yards per kick, pinned 18 inside the 20 and had 12 kicks of 50-plus yards. He ranked eighth in the conference -- though the difference between first (Utah’s Tom Hackett) and Riggleman was an average of 3.4 yards.

Arizona State: Punting was one of ASU’s biggest issues last season. Matt Haack started to come on strong at the end of the season and will likely challenge Alex Garoutte, who averaged 38.8 yards per kick last season. Should Haack win the job, Garoutte is always an option with his rollout style. Quarterback Taylor Kelly has also been known to offer the occasional boot. He punted six times last season, once for 50-plus, and had three downed inside the 20.

California: Cole Leininger is back after a very solid season for the Golden Bears, where he was tied for second in the conference with an average of 42.9 yards per kick. Cal has four punters on the roster in addition to Leininger. And while he’s mostly unchallenged, there are plenty of backup options.

Colorado: Third-team all-conference punter Darragh O'Neill returns and was a midseason Ray Guy candidate last season. He averaged 40.5 yards per punt last year and pinned 22 inside the 20.

Oregon: Alejandro Maldonado handled the punting duties last season and made a couple of appearances as a kicker before the job went to Matt Wogan. Expect Wogan to handle all kicking responsibilities, though some walk-ons will also get looks.

Oregon State: Keith Kostol is back as a third-year starter. He finished last season tied for fifth in the conference with an average of 40.5 yards per punt. He also put 23 kicks inside the 20.

Stanford: Ben Rhyne returns to handle the punting duties for the Cardinal. He was one of the best in the conference last season with an average of 42.9 yards per kick -- just half a yard behind Hackett. He had 12 kicks of 50-plus yards and put 15 inside the 20.

UCLA: Sean Covington is back after having a very solid season, where he posted an average of 42.6 yards per punt. Do-it-all quarterback Brett Hundley punted once last season, but it’s safe to assume that Convington’s job is secure.

USC: Kris Albarado didn’t post an impressive yards-per-punt average (37.1), but he was very good at pinning opponents, with 27 kicks inside the 20. And of his 64 kicks, almost half were fair-caught.

Utah: Hackett was last season's first-team all-conference punter, so expect some preseason All-American hype for him. As noted earlier, he led the conference with an average of 43.4 yards per punt and buried 27 kicks inside the 20.

Washington: Travis Coons pulled double-duty last season. In addition to nailing 15 of 16 field goal attempts, he also averaged 40.4 yards per punt and had eight kicks of 50-plus yards to go with 23 inside the 20. Korey Durkee did some punting in 2012 before Coons won the job, so he’ll get the first look in 2014. Newcomer Tristan Vizcaino could also get looks at kicker and/or punter.

Washington State: Wes Concepcion was the starter in the final two games as punter last season. With Mike Bowlin gone, he should be the favorite to handle punting duties full time. Concepcion punted 12 times last season for an average of 36.2 yards. Eight of those 12 were fair catches and three were inside the 20.

Previous positions

Kicker
Safety
Cornerback
Linebacker
Defensive end
Tight end
Quarterback
Running back
Receiver
Offensive line
Defensive tackle

Spring position breakdown: Place-kickers

March, 10, 2014
Mar 10
5:30
PM PT
Our look at position groups in the Pac-12 continues with place-kickers.

Arizona: Casey Skowron, Bret Miller and Michael Unzicker are all in the mix this spring to replace Jake Smith, who converted 12 of 19 kicks (63.2 percent) last season, including a long of 53. The 12 converted field goals were the lowest in the conference, as was the conversion percentage.

Arizona State: No team in the Pac-12 attempted more field goals in 2013 than the Sun Devils -- and Zane Gonzalez was one of the few bright spots for an otherwise dismal ASU special teams unit. The freshman All-American converted 25 of 30 attempts (83.3) and had a streak of 18 straight.

California: With Vincenzo D’Amato gone (he was 17 of 20 last season), it’s looking like James Langford, Noah Beito and Matt Anderson will all get looks. Langford might have the edge as the kickoff guy with Beito a potential early frontrunner for field goals.

Colorado: Senior Will Oliver is back after converting 17 of 24 kicks last year (70.8 percent). He was perfect inside the 30 (7 of 7) and missed just once inside of 40 yards. Three of his misses came from 50-plus (2 of 5). He’s a potential All-American candidate. Strong-legged Diego Gonzalez from Guadalupe, Mexico, is waiting in the wings.

Oregon: Oregon’s kicking adventures weren’t as interesting in 2013 as they’ve been in the past. While the Ducks attempted the fewest field goals in the conference, Matt Wogan was a solid 7 of 9, and Alejandro Maldonado was 3 of 5 for a combined 71.4 percent -- seventh in the conference. Wogan returns and should be considered the frontrunner to handle all kicking duties, including punting.

Oregon State: Trevor Romaine returns as a fourth-year starter after converting 14 of 20 attempts last season. He was mostly money inside of 40 yards, converting 11 of 13 attempts. But struggled on the longer kicks, converting just 2 of 5 between 40-49 yards and 1 of 2 beyond 50.

Stanford: Jordan Williamson is back after connecting on 18 of 22 kicks in 2013, including a long of 48. Of his four misses, two of them came from 50 yards or longer, where he was 0 for 2. He was automatic inside the 30 and 15 of 16 inside of 40 yards. Time to finally put the 2011 Fiesta Bowl to rest. He's one of the league's most consistent kickers.

UCLA: Ka’imi Fairbairn returns after a hit-and-miss year where he connected on 14 of 21 kicks with a long of 48. He had a stretch where he converted on eight in a row. But also had some inconsistent games (2 of 4 against Nebraska, 2 of 4 against ASU).

USC: Andre Heidari had an up-and-down season. He struggled greatly in the 40-49 yard range, converting on just 3 of 8 kicks. Overall, he was 15 of 22, and his 2013 will most likely be remembered for his 47-yard game-winner against Stanford. Heidari also handled almost every kickoff, though punter Kris Albarado is available if needed.

Utah: "Automatic" Andy Phillips returns after making quite the splash in his first season of football. The former skier became a household name -- well, at least a name in Pac-12 households -- after converting on the first 11 field goals of his career. He’s got a big leg, converting on 9 of 11 from 40 yards or longer.

Washington: No easy task replacing Travis Coons, who handled kicking and punting for the Huskies. He was the Pac-12’s most accurate kicker in 2013, converting on 15 of 16 attempts. Cameron Van Winkle handled some kickoffs before an injury set him back, and Tristan Vizcaino comes in this fall and should be in the mix.

Washington State: Strong-legged Andrew Furney is gone. Wes Concepcion and Erik Powell are the kickers on the roster. Powell was a walk-on, but the coaching staff is high on him. Concepcion likely will handle punting but could kick if needed.

Previous positions

Safety
Cornerback
Linebacker
Defensive end
Tight end
Quarterback
Running back
Receiver
Offensive line
Defensive tackle

Pac-12 lunchtime links

November, 4, 2013
11/04/13
2:30
PM PT
I don't patronize bunny rabbits.

Pac-12 media day notes

July, 24, 2012
7/24/12
9:43
PM PT
UNIVERSAL CITY -- Here are a number of notes and quotes from the USC contingent's appearance at Pac-12 media day on Tuesday. Coach Lane Kiffin, quarterback Matt Barkley and T.J. McDonald all spoke to the media in the Gibson Amphitheatre and took questions at lunch afterward. Other stories from the day, including updates on Nelson Agholor, Silas Redd, Robert Woods and USC-Penn State comparisons, are on the USC Report and ESPNLA.com, but this stuff hasn't been anywhere else on the site yet:

People like Lane now

Kiffin is fully aware that people are starting to like him a lot more in Los Angeles and even across the country.

But he insists that the adjustment in perception has had nothing to do with any modifications he has made to his public perception. Rather, he says, the public has changed the way it looks at him because of the success he had in 2011.

"Winning solves a lot of problems," Kiffin said at lunch. "The change hasn't been me."

He's at least largely correct, but one could argue he has made subtle changes to the way he approaches news conferences that have slowly caught on.

The third-year coach also pointed out that Oregon kicker Alejandro Maldonado could have changed a lot of this if he had made his kick at the end of USC's game against the Ducks last November.

Kiffin and Tim Tebow

From the this-would-have-never-happened-three-years-ago department: Kiffin said in an aside that he met with New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow recently to discuss how to deal with sky-high preseason expectations.

Of course, Tebow dealt with those for years at Florida. Kiffin said the player reminded him to "have fun" with it and tell his players to do the same.

ESPNLosAngeles.com reported last week that Tebow has worked out at USC several times in the last month.

(Read full post)

Top 10 moments, No. 3: The game-winning miss

December, 7, 2011
12/07/11
11:06
PM PT
Our series of the top 10 moments of the 2011 USC football season continues, concluding Friday with No. 1. Catch up on moments Nos. 4-10 here, including more than one Robert Woods touchdown catch and an especially courageous fourth-down call from Lane Kiffin.

Here is moment No. 3: Alejandro Maldonado's missed field goal at the end of the Oregon game.

This was not the best or coolest play of the Trojans' season. And, for that, it's downgraded to the third spot on this list. But, in terms of sheer importance, it probably places as a 1a to our No. 1 moment, which we'll get to later, of course.

It was simple: All Maldonado had to do was make the 37-yard field goal and the game would be tied 38-38, heading into overtime at Autzen Stadium. The momentum would clearly favor the Ducks.

But he didn't make it. And there was a reason for that beyond simple error. As USC special teams coordinator John Baxter revealed in interviews the following week, one reason Maldonado missed -- and probably the main reason -- was that he was wary of USC's kick-blockers and thus tried to kick it through an alternate lane than he normally would.

Video of some of his other kicks from this season seems to support that. Either Maldonado miskicked it entirely, or he purposely shot it out much farther left than he normally would on an attempt from the middle of the field.

And, on the tape of the USC-Oregon game, you can see Matt Kalil surging right through the middle of the Ducks' line with both hands outstretched. It's hard to tell for sure, but it looks as if Kalil would have blocked a normal-looking ball off Maldonado's foot. Hayes Pullard also got up very high behind the line and could have also stopped it if Maldonado tried to laser it through in another manner.

The miss -- call it a forced miss, if you'd like -- gave the Trojans the win and really propelled them into an incredibly surprising finish to the 2011 season. They ended the year ranked No. 5 in the country by the Associated Press.

You can trace a lot of that back to this moment.

Check back Thursday for moment No. 2, from the Stanford game.

The final 151 seconds

November, 20, 2011
11/20/11
4:47
PM PT
EUGENE, Ore. -- Marc Tyler fumbled, Oregon recovered and the Autzen Stadium crowd went wild.

Down three points, the Ducks had two and a half minutes -- 151 seconds -- to score, needing a field goal for overtime and a touchdown for the win.

In Oregon-land, that's an eternity. And Chip Kelly treated it like one, declining to use a single timeout as his Ducks marched down the field with the game in the balance. He wasn't even afraid to run the ball, either. On the final drive, Oregon ran four run plays and got first downs on three of them.

The Ducks were more successful running than passing, really. But they couldn't get past the USC 18-yard line and were forced to kick a 37-yard field goal, and Alejandro Maldonado's attempt went wide left to give the Trojans the win.

For a team that so often scores so quickly, 151 seconds wasn't quite enough.

"We told them they were going to have to beat us with their kicker," cornerback Nickell Robey said afterward. "And that's what it came down to tonight.

"They tried to beat us with our kicker. We beat them with our defense."

If there were a win probability generator in college football like there is in baseball, the algorithm would have said the Ducks were favored when they picked up Tyler's fumble -- meaning there was probably about a 60-70 percent chance Oregon would win once it got that ball, statistically.

But the game's played on the field, and USC didn't give up any gigantic plays to the Ducks, so they were forced to try to grind it out. Kelly ran 15 plays on the final drive -- more than the Ducks had run on any other series in all of Saturday's game.

They weren't well-equipped to succeed in that situation, and they clearly didn't expect to be kicking the field goal. But USC expected them to.

"We have confidence in our special teams and our field-goal block team," safety Jawanza Starling said. "If the game's on the line, we're gonna make a play."

Maldonado was all set to kick a 42-yarder after Lane Kiffin used his last timeout to ice him, but USC left tackle Matt Kalil jumped offsides trying to block it and and the ball was moved five yards closer to the goalposts.

But it didn't matter. A number of USC players said the Oregon kicker was too flustered -- by the situation and by the prospects of USC's best-in-the-country field goal block unit -- to make the kick anyway. His attempt had the distance but hooked wide left late.

The Trojans didn't block it, but the players on the block unit didn't see the kick. Because they all went to the line, none of them knew what happened until they saw their teammates react.

"Once I saw our sideline and realized how quiet it was, I knew he missed it," Starling said. "Or it got blocked. One or the other."

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