Sunday was supposed to be a day off, but Blair Walsh couldn’t relax.
In the end, his two missed field goals against Florida last Saturday didn’t mean much. The Gators won the game by 39, making those six lost points just a drop of water in the ocean. But they weighed on Walsh.
So instead of spending the afternoon watching TV and enjoying a rare bit of free time, he headed to campus and booted about 35 field goals, hoping to isolate the mistake in his technique that cost him two field goals.
“I was motivated to kick,” Walsh said. “I actually hit them much better, which was relieving a little bit.”
The first thing he noticed during his impromptu practice session was that he wasn’t keeping his focus on the kick.
“I just need to keep my head back,” Walsh said. “I’m looking too early. I want to see the results before it actually goes through.”
Lately, the results haven’t been anything Walsh has wanted to see.
After starting the season perfect from inside 50 yards, Walsh has missed five of his past eight field goal tries, including four of 40 yards or shorter.
The reasons for each miss were different, and head coach Mark Richt said Walsh isn’t missing them by much, but for a kicker, every miss is a bad one.
So Walsh kicked one after another Sunday, hoping to get the bad memories of the Florida game out of his head.
“I wanted to go back and just make some,” he said. “I charted myself going back on both hashes and stuff like that. Throughout the season you work to stay fresh instead of on your style, so you can lose focus a little bit. You’ve got to get right back to it.”
Walsh said his teammates have been supportive, despite the misses.
A few of them came up to him after the game to ask what happened. That’s a good sign, he said. If they’re asking why you screwed up, they must not think you do it very often.
“They’ve been real positive about it, and that’s helped me get through this,” Walsh said.
His coach has remained positive, too.
Richt said his confidence in his freshman kicker hasn’t wavered this season. After all, he said, the kicks haven’t missed by much. Two have hit the uprights. Two others sailed just a few feet off target.
“I really don’t get too concerned about it if he’s striking the ball well, and if he misses them by just a little bit,” Richt said. “If he truly had the yips – if he was missing them by a mile – I would be much more concerned. That’s not happening. He’s not mishitting it so badly that we’re really concerned. He’s a young kid, and he’ll get back on track.”
In Walsh’s first miss against Florida, Walsh said it was the rush that got to him.
The Gators presented a far more aggressive rush than what he had seen before, and he tried to make adjustments on the fly.
“I got spooked a little by a guy on the right, and I kind of swung around and up, and you’ll notice the ball went to the left,” Walsh said. “My weight was off.”
On the second miss, he hit the upright from just 27 yards out. That was a minor mishap on his part, too, he said, but one that was inexcusable.
“I saw what I did,” Walsh said. “The post shot is unnerving. Twenty-seven yards. That should never happen.”
He knows what his mistakes were. He knows because the first thing he did when he got back to campus was watch the film. He cringed with each kick.
Walsh doesn’t spend nearly as much time sweating on the practice field, and he doesn’t return to the locker room after a game nearly as sore as his teammates. His misses are magnified, because those are his rare chances to contribute.
So he spent his off day working to correct the mistakes. It was the least he could.
“These guys work so hard on the field,” Walsh said, “and you’ve got that one shot, that one try to make it, and when you don’t, it just kills you.”