One of the greatest areas of concern for the University of Delaware football program during its bye week is the kicking game. The Hens have had a difficult time executing on special teams, particularly their field goal unit. Entering the season, kicker Sean Baner had never failed on an extra point attempt. He was a perfect 67-for-67. Through seven games he and the Hens have squandered four PATs and have missed three-of-six field goal tries.
Obviously everyone’s attention immediately turns to the kicker when things go wrong, but upon deeper evaluation, it appears to be everyone other than Baner who is currently struggling.
“Well I think we had a bad snap [on one],” said Delaware head coach Dave Brock about his team’s issues in the kicking game. “I’m not going to tell you that I don’t think the ball should get down, but I couldn’t classify it as a good snap. And then I thought we had a poor hold. We just didn’t catch the ball when I thought it was a good enough snap.”
Against Albany on Saturday, UD missed a field goal and failed to knock through two more extra points on bobbled snaps. After the third lost opportunity at points, Brock decided to make a change. He pulled regular holder Garrett Greenway and inserted backup Eric Enderson. Enderson’s first hold came on Baner’s game-winning 42-yard field goal as time expired.
“During the game I couldn’t have told you with 100 percent accuracy or honesty that I knew it was that, I just felt like we had to make a change. We made the change prior to even knowing we were going to kick that [game-winning] field goal. I was proud of Eric. He was able to go out and execute and put it down and then obviously we made the kick.”
When asked if Enderson would take over the holding duties permanently Brock was non-committal, but he seemed to also indicate the change would likely last.
“I would say he is [the holder moving forward], but we won’t make that decision until next week,” Brock said honestly. “There was enough on film to make me feel like we have operational issues. We’re not in a blame-the-player business so we’re going to try and solve the operational issues most importantly and then we’ll make personnel decisions like we always do on Sunday and then move forward.”
Brock stressed that it is a problem UD cannot afford to continue.
“You have to execute. We spend an incredible amount of time doing it. These guys, all they do all day is that—kick the ball to each other. That’s something that you’ve got to count on being something that’s automatic and it hasn’t been for us. We’ve got to continue to work on it and make sure it is because ultimately we’re taking points off the board. To say that we had a PAT blocked is, other than that we kicked it into them, a little bit of an exaggeration. We had operational issues. I mean we didn’t really even have a chance to get the ball kicked successfully. So I think we can fix that. I think the problem is us. We’ve identified it and we are going to work really hard to fix it.”
The head coach had no issue with his kicker even though he missed a field goal attempt that was spotted cleanly by Greenway in the third quarter.
“I think he just pushed that one a little bit,” Brock said. “Like a lot of things, the reality of kicking is, when you make them they’re good and when you don’t they’re not. It’s a lot like play calling. Everybody likes the play calls that work and everybody doesn’t like the play calls that don’t.
“Our confidence level doesn’t change. I had full confidence that he would go out and make it. I told him as much beforehand. If he hadn’t made it and we came back and needed him to make it in overtime, I would have had the same confidence that he would have made it then. I just think that that’s the way you operate. I feel very good about him as a player and good about him as a person and again we’re going to count on him to continue to do well for us this year.”
For Baner’s part, he acknowledges that the whole process has been off, but he takes full responsibility for the end results.
“We’re a unit,” Baner said. “Everything depends on the snapper, the holder and me. The holder needs a [good] snap. If it’s wobbly that could mess up the hold. If it’s on a different shoulder it could mess up the spot that they put it at. Then I rely so much on both of them. We work day-in and day-out on the timing. Without a good snap and a good hold it makes that tougher for me.
“I still have to do my job regardless of what that is. The blame’s always on me because of the fact that I’m kicking the ball and I’m fine with that. We just need to keep working on it and see what really can be improved and how to do that.”
The senior out of Southampton, PA says the kicking process is so fragile that even a centimeter’s difference can throw the whole thing off.
“When I take my steps back, the holder puts down two fingers, and where his fingers are is where my body’s going to go,” Baner explained. “So if that spot moves because of a snap or the hold, then I have to adjust towards where that is. And that’s where I’ve had a couple of difficulties. It’s just stuff that I wasn’t used to and now I’m getting used to it.”
Baner said the issues were difficult to deal with initially, but then he remembered something a former teammate taught him.
“Freshman year the best thing ever that I could have had was Ed Wagner being here,” Baner said. “I used to get all worked up about kicking and he really taught me when he was here as a punter how to settle down and how to just forget about things and put it past you because there’s nothing you can do about it once it happens. So that’s what I really try to relay to my teammates. You might mess up a punt, but the next punt you might boom it and it might be that punt that switches the field position on the other team. We have a couple of younger guys in our specialist group so [I am] just working with them and trying to teach them how to just let stuff go and take a deep breath.”