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Field Goal Kicking Woes Nothing New For Alabama


The most unnerving sight for Alabama football followers these days?  No, it's not a third-and-long pass by an opposing quarterback thrown between a pair of 'Bama defensive backs who appear to be almost -- almost being the operative word -- in perfect position to make a play on the ball. And, no, it's not an off-the-mark spiral heaved up by an under-pressure Jake Coker or Cooper Bateman. Those are probably close, though.

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Right now, the most unnerving sight for an Alabama football follower has to be a foot-propelled pigskin spinning towards the goal posts. Not much good seems to happen when that scene plays out on Saturdays.

In fact, the good vibes that are supposed to permeate through hopeful Alabama supporters when field goal tries are attempted have been slowly disappearing for sometime now. Yes, confidence in Alabama's field-goal kicking ability is pretty low right now, but it's not like it just suddenly hit this level of angst.

How unsettling is it? Consider this: There are only six FBS teams that have failed to convert a single field goal try this season. Yep, Alabama is one. The others? Wyoming, NC State, Miami (Ohio), New Mexico State and UCF.

What makes Alabama's situation look even more dire, compared with the others, is the fact that the Crimson Tide has attempted four field goals, making none. Wyoming has attempted two, and the other four have all attempted just one.

Not a good sign for an Alabama team with championship aspirations that's about to enter the teeth of what most consider to be the most daunting schedule in the country. No. 2 Alabama hosts No. 15 Ole Miss this Saturday, and then after a home date with lightweight Louisiana-Monroe the following week will travel to No. 7 Georgia, host Arkansas, visit No. 17 Texas A&M and then welcome Tennessee before catching its bye-week breather.

One has to think the Tide is going to need a clutch 3-pointer somewhere during this stretch if they want to stay at the forefront of the College Football Playoff conversation. If not during that upcoming stretch, perhaps in the final month of the regular season where showdowns with No. 13 LSU, Mississippi  State and No. 18 Auburn loom after the bye.

Again, though, it's worthy of mention that Bama's kicking blues have been lingering for a few seasons now. In fact, other than an aberrational uptick in 2012, thanks to a stellar season by senior Jeremy Shelley, who was 11-of-11 on field goal attempts that season, the Tide has descended farther and farther down the national rankings with each successive season since 2009 when Leigh Tiffin was 30-of-35.

In its first national title-winning season under Nick Saban in '09, Alabama ranked 21st nationally in field goals, converting 30-of-36 attempts (83.3 percent). Alabama tumbled to 61st nationally in 2010, converting 19-of-25 (76 percent). The Crimson Tide fell even farther in 2011, to 85th after converting 23-of-36 (63.9 percent). Performance in this area rebounded in 2012, when Alabama finished 45th in the nation at 75 percent (15 of 20). But the Tide plunged to 90th in 2013, converting just 13-of-20 (65 percent), followed by another decline last season (14-of-22, 63.6 percent), ending up 97th nationally.

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Alabama's been dominant enough in so many other areas during the Saban era that the field goal troubles have been easily masked. For the most part. No doubt Bama fans still cringe when thinking back to narrow, gut-wrenching regular season losses to LSU and Auburn in 2011 and '13, respectively -- losses that can't be pinned solely on field goal misses, but the multiple misses in those contests (four against LSU, three against Auburn) clearly contributed to the defeats.

Is it a personnel problem? A coaching deficiency? Injury issues? Evaluation misses on the recruiting trail? Hard to say. Maybe it's a combination of all or some of those. Whatever the reason or reasons, Tiffin and Shelley ultimately ended their careers at Alabama as pretty solid field goal kickers, while Cade Foster, who followed Shelley, did not. And so far, current kicker Adam Griffith is looking more like his predecessor (Foster) than either Tiffin or Shelley.

Last Saturday against Middle Tennessee, Griffith, who missed a 44-yarder and 39-yarder against Wisconsin in the season opener, added misses of 24 and 49 yards. After the game, Saban seemed at a loss to explain his kicker's struggles.

"Griff hits the ball well, he kicks the ball off well," the Alabama head coach said of the 5-foot-10, 192-pound junior. "A lot of these kinds of things are mental, confidence, psychological disposition. I think he needs to make some kicks. I think it would be really good for him. I think it would be really good for us. 

"One was a long one today, and one was a short one. The short one was disappointing. He kicks extra points just great. That was not much more than an extra point. We obviously need to get more production there, but we also have confidence in him, and we think he can get the job done. But there may come a point sometime where we give somebody else an opportunity."

Punter JK Scott, who both punted and kicked in high school, is listed as Alabama's No. 2 placekicker behind Griffith. But even Scott, who was arguably the best punter in the country last season, hasn't produced on the same level he did last season.

Sure, it's early. But based on recent history, the trend of late and the way this season has started, it's hard for anyone wearing crimson and white to feel too optimistic the next time an Alabama kicker trots onto the field to try and boot the ball through the uprights.

And when championships are the goal and with parity in college football seemingly at an all-time high right now, that's a concern.

And if it's not, it might need to be.

— Written by Erik Stinnett, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Stinnett is an experienced college football beat writer who has been covering Alabama since 2009.