KNOXVILLE (AP) — One of the simplest plays in football has proved anything but automatic for Tennessee.
Tennessee already has missed four extra-point attempts this season, which represents its highest total since 1975. Switching kickers hasn’t solved the Volunteers’ extra-point woes.
“There’s no excuse for missed PATs and missed field goals and stuff we should hit, that we hit in practice all the time,” junior kicker Michael Palardy said. “It’s the beauty of the game. You go out, it happens, you have to move on to the next one, forget about it and call it a day.”
The only Football Bowl Subdivision program with more missed extra points is Fresno State, which has gone 21 of 26. Purdue is 20 of 24 on PATs to match Tennessee’s miss total, while the Vols are 21 of 25. The difference is that three of Fresno State’s misses and two of Purdue’s failed conversions were blocked. All of Tennessee’s misses sailed wide or hit an upright.
“The PATs are inexcusable,” Tennessee tight ends and special teams coach Charlie Coiner said. “They know it. I know it. The fans know it. You make PATs. I don’t care if you’re in high school. I don’t care if you’re in the NFL or college. You make PATs.”
Tennessee’s struggles started with its first touchdown of the season in a 35-21 victory over North Carolina State. Palardy’s extra-point attempt, which followed a high snap, went wide left. Palardy also missed an extra point and a 39-yard field goal the following week in a 51-13 victory over Georgia State before getting replaced by Derrick Brodus.
Brodus hit the left upright with one extra-point attempt in a 37-20 loss to Florida. He followed that up by going 4 of 4 on field goals and 5 of 5 on extra points to match the single-game scoring record for a Tennessee kicker in a 47-26 triumph over Akron. Just when it appeared Brodus was settling into the job, he missed an extra point and a 28-yard field goal last week in a 51-44 loss to No. 5 Georgia.
Palardy kicked Tennessee’s final extra point against Georgia and is expected to regain the job when the Vols play Oct. 13 at No. 20 Mississippi State.
“I haven’t been told,” Palardy said. “Other people have said it, but I’m not focused on that. I’m focused on going to practice, being consistent, pushing my teammates and my teammates pushing me.”
Tennessee coach Derek Dooley has focused on the positive as the Vols seek to improve their consistency. Dooley noted Tennessee is 8 of 10 on field-goal attempts, though the Vols haven’t tried one from beyond 39 yards.
“We can’t miss (four) PATs because it’s going to incite furor by everybody, including my kids,” Dooley said. “Then you look and we’re 8 for 10 in five games on field goals and that’s pretty good. Eighty percent. Isn’t that true? We never say that, though. We just say we missed (four) PATs.”
Dooley cites a combination of factors that may have caused Palardy’s early-season issues.
“There’s some technical things from his technique that he can improve on and change that lends itself to a low trajectory,” Dooley said. “And what happens is if you don’t have the right mindset, then the technical flaw gets compounded. Now you have a breakdown in your swing. I keep equating it to golf. When you top a ball, what happens? Is it your technical swing? Is it your mindset? Is it your eyes? It’s usually a combination of a lot of things. For the pros, when they do that, it’s probably a mental thing. For us amateurs, it’s probably both.”
Tennessee’s staff doesn’t include an assistant who exclusively coaches kickers.
Coiner has worked with special teams units for much of a coaching career that has lasted about three decades, but he isn’t a former kicker himself. Dooley also is heavily involved in the coaching of Tennessee’s kickers.
Dooley continued using a golf analogy as he described the relationship between a kicker and coach.
“Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson, they get it where they need a guy to just say, ‘Look right there. Watch this,’” Dooley said. “That’s what you hope for your kickers. They understand it, and you’re there to point it out a little bit. Most kickers, they learn their trade. You’re there to kind of assist them a little bit with their practice structure, help with their mental approach and that sort of thing.”
Palardy has learned plenty from Tennessee’s extra-point struggles. Now he’s ready to correct the problem.
“All those missed kicks are in our past now,” Palardy said. “We can’t worry about it. Go on to the next game and get better every day.”