Alabama remains confident in kickers
NEW ORLEANS -- The most important development in No. 2 Alabama's preparations for its rematch against No. 1 LSU in Monday night's Allstate BCS National Championship Game might have come on the last play of their final practice in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Only a couple of hours before the Crimson Tide boarded a plane for New Orleans on Wednesday, sophomore kicker Cade Foster booted a 54-yard field goal at the end of a one-minute drill against the team's No. 1 defense.
It might have been the emotional lift that Foster -- and his teammates -- needed before playing the Tigers again.
On Nov. 5, Foster and fellow Alabama kicker Jeremy Shelley combined to miss four field goals in the Crimson Tide's 9-6 overtime loss to LSU in Tuscaloosa. If the Crimson Tide hadn't managed to earn a trip to New Orleans to play LSU on Monday night -- the first regular-season rematch in BCS title game history -- the earlier loss might have haunted the Crimson Tide forever.
"It's a huge relief and a huge opportunity," Shelley said. "We've got to come back and show them what we can do and hopefully put them away."
Oddly enough, other kickers' missed field goals made it possible for the Crimson Tide to play LSU again, this time with a BCS national championship on the line:
• On Nov. 12, then-No. 5 Boise State lost to TCU 36-35 after freshman kicker Dan Goodale's 39-yard field goal attempt sailed wide right as time expired at Bronco Stadium in Boise, Idaho. The Broncos were knocked out of the BCS national title race for the second season in a row by a missed field goal, and the loss ended their 65-game regular-season home winning streak.
• On Nov. 18, then-No. 2 Oklahoma State lost 37-31 in double overtime at Iowa State. After blowing a 24-7 lead in the second half, the Cowboys still had a chance to win the game in regulation. But with the score tied at 24, OSU's Quinn Sharp missed a 37-yard field goal attempt, which sailed just right of the upright with 1:17 to go. The Pokes lost after quarterback Brandon Weeden was intercepted on his first pass of the second overtime period, then Iowa State's Jeff Woody ran for a four-yard touchdown.
Missed field goals have also been a big factor in college football's bowl season:
• No. 16 Georgia lost 33-30 in triple overtime to No. 17 Michigan State in Monday's Outback Bowl after senior Blair Walsh missed a 42-yard field goal in the first overtime and had a 47-yard attempt blocked on the game's final play. The Spartans won the game on Dan Conroy's 28-yard field goal.
• In Monday night's Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, No. 3 Oklahoma State defeated No. 4 Stanford 41-38 on Sharp's 22-yard field goal in overtime. The Pokes won after Stanford freshman Jordan Williamson missed a 35-yard field goal wide left on the final play of regulation and then a 43-yard attempt in overtime.
• In Tuesday night's Allstate Sugar Bowl, Virginia Tech's Justin Myer missed a 37-yard field goal in overtime in a 23-20 loss to No. 13 Michigan. Myer, a third-string kicker, who was elevated to the starting job after two kickers were suspended, made four field goals in regulation. The Wolverines won the game on kicker Brendan Gibbons' 37-yard field goal.
"This is a rare year," Foster said. "As teams get better, teams are getting more evenly matched and the role of kickers are going to be even more magnified."
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Alabama's missed field goals might have been the most magnified gaffes of the season because the game was so highly anticipated. But in the latest "Game of the Century," Foster and Shelley combined for a forgettable performance.
"I think distance played a big factor," Shelley said. "Anytime you're back up like that, your percentage is obviously going to be low."
Foster, a sophomore from Southlake, Texas, missed a 44-yard attempt on Alabama's first possession and then missed a 50-yard attempt on the next series. Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban put Shelley into the game to try a 49-yard attempt on the next possession -- Foster usually kicks every attempt longer than 41 yards -- and it was blocked.
Shelley, a junior from Raleigh, N.C., made a 34-yard attempt to give Alabama a 3-0 lead with 3:53 to play in the first half. Then Foster kicked a 46-yard field goal to give the Tide a 6-3 lead with 7:56 to play in the third quarter.
But after LSU's Drew Alleman made a 25-yard field goal to send the game into overtime, Foster missed a 52-yard attempt in overtime. The Tigers won the game on Alleman's 25-yard field goal on the final play.
"Nothing affected that game," Foster said. "It was just me and there was no excuse."
A couple of days after Alabama's loss to LSU, Foster had to shut down his Facebook account because he was receiving so many negative comments. But he said the majority of messages from Crimson Tide fans were supportive.
"You can't explain [the feeling]," Foster said. "It's a great feeling when you do it right. When you don't, it's not so good."
Foster has attempted only two field goals since the LSU loss, missing a 49-yard attempt in a 24-7 win at Mississippi State and a 47-yard attempt in a 45-21 victory over FBS foe Georgia Southern. He is 2-for-9 on field goal attempts this season.
Still, Foster said he'll be confident if his number is called again Monday night and insists his missed field goals in the first LSU game won't be on his mind.
"None," Foster said. "It's done. It's in the past. Until someone invents a time machine, I'm not going to worry about it. If you can't change it, why worry about it?"
Shelley, who has made 16 of 20 attempts this season, was more accurate down the stretch. He made four field goal attempts in the Tide's last three games.
"I've got no problem with the game coming down to our feet again," Shelley said. "I have confidence in Cade and I to put the game away."
Alabama's players still seem to have confidence in their kickers, too.
"I love my kickers," Tide offensive tackle Barrett Jones said. "We've got to put them in situations that are good for everybody. We put them in low-percentage plays and that's our fault. It's a funny position because that's all you do. You can be either a hero or a villain. Some people have blamed our loss solely on the kickers and that's untrue."
Said Tide center William Vlachos: "I think the blame is unfair. As an offense, we've got to get them closer. We've got to get them extra points. We've got to score touchdowns. We can't get field goals every time."
Saban doesn't seem worried about Foster and Shelley not being confident on Monday night.
"We have a lot of confidence in our kickers," Saban said. "What I'm as much concerned about is what we did prior to each one of those opportunities. We actually had negative plays that put us in a more difficult circumstance relative to having a high percentage to kick. I mean, if you're in the NFL and you're kicking over-45-yard field goals, maybe you're 33 or 40 percent. And if you're a baseball player and you hit .333, it probably gets you in the Hall of Fame."
If Monday night's game comes down to a last-second kick, Shelley said he'll be ready.
"You're going to be in the spotlight," Shelley said. "It's just a matter of whether you're going to be a hero or a goat."
Mark Schlabach covers college sports for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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