“We need to make a change,” Will Muschamp said. “We’ve been very inconsistent.”
Those were the words of a man who had run out of answers for his All-American punter who was in a funk. The yards-per-punt were down, if only slightly, but it was missed opportunities that really perturbed the head coach.
During the 2012 campaign, Christy was nailing coffin corner punts and downing opponents inside the shadow of their own goal post with uncanny regularity. His position is not one that receives glory but his contributions to the team in 2012 were undeniable. Christy facilitated both the offense and the defense. When the offense stalled and went three-and-out, no problem. Kyle will down the other team inside their own 20 and the defense could go to work. Control the field position, control the clock, and win games.
The formula worked until it didn’t. The key component being too many failed opportunities to pin opponents down on their own goal line.
“We had two opportunities to pin them down in their own territory in a field-position game,” Muschamp said following the LSU game last season. “We didn’t get it done.”
That led to Florida’s headman yanking an All-American in favor of a freshman that wasn’t even in the recruiting class on national signing day. Johnny Townsend took the starting job and even though the freshman only averaged 41.97 yards-per-kick (3.83 lower than Christy the year before) he never relinquished the starter job.
Kickers, punters and their coaches compare kicking to a golf swing. We’ve all spent days cursing at a little white ball when our swing doesn’t feel right. You don’t know what’s wrong, just that the end product isn’t what you desired. It’s frustrating and before long, a physical problem can turn into in to a mental problem. When you’re in a rut the hardest thing to do is to stay confident in your ability but it’s what you must do.
For whatever reason, Christy either wasn’t afforded enough of an opportunity to work out of it or the coaching staff felt that his confidence was too far-gone last season and a move had to be made.
Heading into spring practice there was a new predicament for the coaching staff. How would they handle a kicking battle between a senior and former All-American and the sophomore that unseated him the previous season?
They decided to let the two have a good old-fashioned kicking contest a battle that by Muschamp’s own admission, was turning into a good one.
“I think he’s hitting the ball extremely well,” Muschamp said of Christy. “We’re charting every kick, and there’s no question his confidence took a hit and he’s battling for the starting job. We’ve got two guys that have Sunday legs, I mean they both kick very well.”
The kicking battle began turning heads midway through spring practice. The Gators lined up to work on punt blocking and punt protection with Townsend and Christy alternating reps.
Christy booted a punt high and deep down the field. Townsend followed him up with an equally impressive punt, causing the media and fans assembled to really take notice at just how close this battle truly had become.
Townsend looked better than he had at any point last season and Christy looked like the guy that helped Florida earn a berth to the Sugar bowl two seasons ago.
That kicking battle was put to a halt last week when Johnny Townsend had to undergo surgery on his hand, placing a pin in his thumb. Townsend is expected to miss eight-to-10 weeks due to the injury.
“He’s going to be fine, it was wear and tear through the years there,” Muschamp said. “I felt like we wanted to go ahead and put a pin in it.”
Townsend will be back but with the way that Christy has been punting this spring he may return to the team and find himself not in a battle for the starting job but on the outside looking in. Christy’s performance this spring seems to have him out of the rut that plagued his performance last season. His teammates are noticing it and talking about it, saying that he has returned to form. His coach sees it as well.
“Based on Saturday, absolutely. He’s really punted well,” said Muschamp. “But I think he’s had a good spring. I really do, I think he’s punted well. His confidence is up and he’s done some nice things.”
While often overlooked, punters — especially ones the caliber of Christy — are critical to a teams’ performance.
“You look at the percentages and we show our guys after every year after every season how much the percentage gains when you gain the ball on the other side of the 50 or when you’re able to flip a field and make an offense drive the ball 80 yards,” Muschamp said.
There’s a new attitude in Gainesville. Tuesday afternoon Muschamp assured everyone that Florida will field a good football team come fall. While most of the attention is being paid to Kurt Roper and the new offense, fans should really be looking forward to something old.
Christy returning to his old self, booting punts 60-yards down field and setting up Florida’s defense.