There’s an old adage in sports: When a team is losing, the warts tend to get picked at, the problems tend to be magnified.
The Kansas football program probably has deeper and more significant problems than its kicking game. But because the Jayhawks are who they are — a 1-4 team with six victories in their last 36 games — it’s easier to place the magnifying glass over junior kicker Ron Doherty and the Jayhawks’ kicking unit.
Doherty, who also serves as the Jayhawks’ punter, is 5 for 10 on field-goal attempts in five games. And based on the small sample — he’s 1 for 5 from beyond 30 yards — his range has been a major issue.
Doherty’s struggles — he’s also missed a 24-yarder against Kansas State — caused KU coach Charlie Weis to re-open the kicking position during practice this week. Doherty will have to hold off Austin Barone, a freshman from Pittsburg. Sophomore Nick Prolago, from Olathe, has also spent time kicking off this season.
“I think that you have to be willing to give other people additional looks,” Weis said. “We will be practicing the field goal every day this week. And we usually do not do that.
“So field goals will get a lot of attention this week.”
Doherty arrived at Kansas from Klein, Texas, a former soccer player who grew up idolizing Patriots kicker Adam Vinatieri — the same kicker that helped Weis collect Super Bowl rings during his time in New England.
Doherty finished third in the Big 12 last season with a 42.8 punting average, but he was also thrust into duty on field goals after then kicker Alex Mueller struggled last season. Mueller then elected to transfer, and Doherty again had to pull double-duty. He’s currently 10th among punters while averaging 40.5 yards. Of course, Doherty has battled through some issues that were out of his control. Long-snapper Justin Carnes missed the first three games, and Doherty’s miss at K-State might have been caused by an iffy snap.
“Sometimes you can blame everything on the kicker,” Weis said. “And Ron certainly would accept his share of the blame. But even on that one, you saw the snap was not perfect.”
For his part, Weis says he’s been through this before. He laughs when he brings up a story from Notre Dame, when he elected to forgo a potential game-winning 42-yard field goal because his kicker told him he couldn’t make it. Predictably, Weis was torched after the game.
“Well, what are you going to do?” Weis said. “Put him out there? ‘Go out there any way, kid.’ ”
Weis seems poised to make kicking a priority. He says he’d like to have one kicker on scholarship every year. And he believes the long-term kicking answer may already be in-house. Sophomore Eric Kahn is sitting out this season after transferring from MidAmerica Nazarene.
“He has got a big leg and you will see him out (there),” Weis said. “You saw him out there a little bit in training camp and you figured, ‘Oh, we have a guy.’ I saw the same thing you did.”
For now, the Jayhawks will march on with what they have. Weis concedes that the question marks in the kicking game can affect his play-calling. But for a team struggling to score, it can be a confounding problem. Roll the dice on fourth down or go for three and cross your fingers? Last week’s miss against K-State, Weis says, was the perfect example.
“When it is the fourth drive of the game,” Weis said, “and you have scored twice already and now you are down there again with a chance to get more points on the board, those have to be automatic.”