A made kick can lead to another just as easily as a miss might lead to another, and another and another.
Junior kicker Griffin Oakes is experiencing the latter.
He missed a fourth-quarter attempt two weeks ago in IU’s win against Maryland and three more in the win over Rutgers. He also missed his first extra point of the year.
The former Big Ten Kicker of the Year is now 11 of 20 on field goals for the season, and while the poor showing against Rutgers is not all on him, a miss is a miss is a miss.
“Kicking and punting is, unfortunately, a streaky thing,” said Erich Toth, who punted for the Hoosiers from 2012 to 2015 and held Oakes’ field goals the past two seasons. “It’s just like golf, I mean you see guys win the Masters all the time and then go cold for a couple months, maybe even for a couple years. It’s a very streaky job.”
IU Coach Kevin Wilson said it’s on the 11-man kicking unit as a whole to right the ship. It’s not just Oakes’ fault. It’s the team’s fault. Against Rutgers, IU dealt with some protection issues, and Wilson pointed to a possible lack of complete trust between Oakes and sophomore holder Joseph Gedeon as one area that needs improvement.
IU’s kickers have shown they have the leg to make the kicks. That’s not the issue. All 11, especially Oakes and Gedeon, must come together.
Toth said the trio’s ability to do their jobs well is perfected through repetition, and, because this year features a new holder and snapper, it will take time to get up to speed.
Wilson said he’s been calm in his approach to Oakes’ struggles, and in discussions pointed to past successes.
“I’m actually a pretty good sports psychologist when I want to be,” Wilson said. “So, I’m just like, hey, man, come on. I mean, it’s hard to be a sports psychologist when a guy can’t. The guy can, and I came in, you tell me whatever you want, and then you’ve got to work at it. It’s going to show up.”
That’s the mindset Oakes has to have, Toth said. Doubt might creep in, but kickers have to be mentally tough and go out for the next one.
When Toth was at IU, he said he felt the team had a strong bond, but the specialists like punters, kickers and long snappers especially had a strong bond. Most colleges, IU included, don’t have specific position coaches dedicated to these specialists, just coaches who understand what’s needed schematically.
The group coaches themselves. Former kicker Mitch Ewald passed that down to Toth and former long snapper Matt Dooley, and Toth and Dooley passed it to Oakes, Gedeon and junior kicker Aaron Del Grosso.
“I think those guys still do a pretty good job of that,” Toth said. “But it’s tough not having — we were always at a point where we had a senior figure there to be the leader.”
Toth said Oakes is still in the process of embracing the role, but it’s tough to be that guy and work through individual struggles. Toth texts and calls the current crop of specialists every week just to try to be as much of a resource as possible, but it’s part of the game that those specialists go through rough patches.
“Luckily with college you don’t get cut, and it’s not your full-time job,” Toth said. “It’s a full-time job because it’s a Division I sport, but it’s not a way of life in the way it is in the NFL.”
Eventually, they’ll get there. However, in Toth’s eyes, Oakes’ rebound after missing an overtime field goal in the 2016 bowl game loss to Duke shows he’s mentally tough.
“To miss the kick at the end of the bowl game like that and then come back the next season, and even be mentally strong enough to go out there and suit up again and be confident to go out there, is big in itself,” Toth said. “A lot of people might have just folded and not been the same.”
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