What happened?

If you stayed up late on New Year’s Eve (and who didn’t?), you most likely got the chance to see Ohio State’s kicker blow the game winning field goal in the Peach Bowl in the last seconds of the game. Sadly, for Buckeye fans, the kick not only did not sail through the crossbars, but landed with a knuckleball thud to ring in the New Year, as Ohio State lost to the defending National Champions, Georgia,  42-41.

The kicker was senior, Noah Ruggles. He was already 2-for-2 on field goals (25 & 48) before his chance from 50 for the winning kick. He was 17-19 on field goals for the year, his long being a 49 yard boot. Noah’s a good dependable kicker that any college team would be lucky to have.

So why the miss?

Watch the game footage and see if you can spot what went wrong. You’ll be hard pressed to do so.

Almost every kicker has missed in a crucial game situation. Why should one kick be any differnt from the next?

Why would any kicker miss this kick?

1) Inconsistent or poor technique.

2) Bad snap, hold or protection.

3) Difficult conditions. 

4) Nerves.

5) Bad luck.

What’s the reason for Noah’s miss?

1) Inconsistent or poor technique.

Noah’s technique is fine. His stance is relaxed, his approach is strong and his plant and leg swing are all fine — but see point number 3 for more.

2) Bad snap, hold or protection

As much as Noah might have wanted to blame anyone other than himself for the miss, the snap and hold are about as good as it gets… and the line kept everyone at bay.

3) Difficult conditions.

This is definitely one reason for the miss. But you say, “He’s on turf in a dome. Conditions couldn’t be better.” True, but there are three other aspects to field conditions than just the field and weather — game situation, perceived pressure and field position.

Game Situation is everything riding on one kick… the last play of the game… in a game that could send your team to the National Championship game — along with the potential of a miss being your last kick of your career. All of those factors play with your mental state.

Perceived Pressure might have something to do with difficult conditions, too, as the attendance for the Peach Bowl was 79.330 fans that night…  and the game was the most watched bowl game in 2022 with, oddly enough 22,000,000 viewers on TV. A kicker is keenly aware, waiting for his opportunity throughout the game to feel a rise in expectations.

Field Position is also a part of this equation, with the ball spotted at the 40 yard line — making it a 50 yard field goal. A lot can happen to a ball when it’s 50 yards away from the post. Noah has had great accuracy, but not from long distance. As a matter of fact, he had only tried one other 50+ field goal in his career (and missed it).  I’ll bet he’s made plenty of 50+ field goals in practice, but never in game. If you watched his 48-yarder earlier in the game, it didn’t clear by much. This 50-yarder was going to test Noah’s distance. Most kickers have a “normal” leg swing where they know that distance is not a factor…  and one leg swing they reserve for a long kick.  Watch the video again.  Noah apears to drive harder into the ball (as he should, he can’t leave it short), but typical of what can go wrong when you do, is your plant get too tight to the ball and you hit it too close to your ankle. You get a “powerball” knuckler…. just like what you see on tape.

4) Nerves.

Most people would melt in this situation. They would rather be anywhere else on earth than in that moment in front of so many people all looking at you.  Half praying for a make and half hexing you for a miss. You are fully aware of the magnitude of the play; aware of your teammates, and the worry of disappointing them. You are also aware of the fear of failure in a moment designed for exactly what you’ve been practicing all your life. It just doesn’t get any larger than this. I guarantee you, Noah was nervous.

5) Bad luck.

I’m not a big believer in luck. Not sure if Noah is either. Sometimes, you make a kick that felt lousy — that’s just dumb luck. Other times, you miss a kick when everything felt right — that’s just bad luck — isn’t it?  “Bad luck” often follows players who are not as prepared as they should be — I’m pretty sure Noah had trained long and hard for the opportunity to make a kick like this in his career.

I think Noah’s miss, like almost every other kicker who’s “choked” is due to points 3 & 4. 

How can you avoid a choke? How will you handle choking?

In my next post, I deal with drills you can use while training to help you handle pressure situations better.

Read about how a kicker can quickly bounce back from a miss during a game ” Read blog post