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Better/Worse/Neutral: The Kicking Game

In our latest installment of the Better/Worse/Neutral series we take a look at the Husky kicking game and try to assess how they'll compare to last year.

P Korey Durkee
P Korey Durkee
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Key Losses: none

Key Additions: none

As noted above, the kicking game for 2015 will essentially comprise the same folks that filled the units in 2014.  That's not strictly true - the folks forming the blocking units on field goals and extra points and those that fill out the kickoff and punt coverage units won't be exactly the same - but the key cogs all return: P Korey Durkee, PK Cameron Van Winkle, KOS Tristan Vizcaino and LS Ryan Masel.  In general returning experience is a good thing, and for the Huskies' kicking game that is certainly true.

After some concern about his consistency and ability to get his kicks off quickly over his first two years on the team, Durkee stepped into the void left by the departed Travis Coons and had himself a strong season.  He displayed improvement in both areas, and also showed surprising skill in executing the rolling rugby-style punts that have come into vogue in recent years.  Considering the difficulties of kicking in Husky Stadium (particularly later in the fall), he did well, averaging 42.1 ypp, good for 49th in the country.  More notably it was the 9th best single-season average in Husky history.  Even better, his kicks were either boomed high enough or kicked away from the returner enough that only 12 of his 63 punts were returned and for an average of just 4.2 yards.

Van Winkle overcame concerns of his own, namely whether he had recovered from back issues that threatened to derail his football career.  He answered those questions emphatically, nailing 20 of 24 field goal attempts (the 6th highest single-season total in Husky history), and his 83.3% success rate ranks 5th in UW history.  They weren't all chip shots either - he was 8/9 from 30-39, 4-7 from 40-49 and 1-1 from 50+.  He also hit 47 of 49 PAT attempts and his 107 points was the 3rd best total by a kicker in Husky history.

His kickoffs lacked enough distance though, so Vizcaino became the primary kickoff specialist and he averaged 60.4 yards with 24.3% of them going for touchbacks.  While better than Van Winkle, those numbers still ranked near the bottom of the NCAA stat sheets.  Even considering the swirling winds and poor weather that can affect kicking in the stadium, this is an area where there's definite room for improvement.  Coverage wasn't outstanding either, as they allowed 20.3 per return to rank 51st in the country.

Verdict: Better

I was tempted to say "Neutral", if only because as a whole this was an area of strength last season and I'm not sure we'll see better punting and place-kicking this season.  However I'm optimistic that another year in the weight room and of practice will allow Vizcaino to improve on his kickoffs, and another year of coaching by Coordinator Jeff Choate will result in better kickoff coverage, so those areas should hopefully make this an even bigger strength for Washington in 2015.