Notre Dame, IN (UHND) – Brandon Walker has had a very rocky first couple of years as the Notre Dame place kicker. His career hit another bump in the road Monday when Charlie Weis named freshman Nick Tausch the starting place kicker and kick-off man as the Irish begin preparations for the season opener against Nevada.
“Field goal kicker is going to be (Nick) Tausch. Kickoff guy is also going to be Tausch,” Weis said on Monday when asked about how the kicking competitions played out.
The staff had held a competition for all of the kicking jobs between the incumbents and the freshman; Tausch ended up winning both field goal kicking and kick-off jobs running away. “Actually, he won the competition rather significantly statistically,” Weis said. “We tracked every competitive kick for the entire (camp), and he won it fairly convincingly.”
Tausch, a native of Dallas Texas, beat out two year starting kicker Brandon Walker for the position. Walker, a Lou Groza watch list candidate, started last season by connecting on just one of his first seven attempts after hitting just six of twelve of his attempts as a true freshman in 2007.
Walker struggled mightily with his consistency last year, but rebounded during the second half of the season by connecting on 13 of his last 17 attempts. Despite the overall improvement in his performance though, his consistency was still lacking including a miss from 38 yards in the 4th overtime against Pitt which ended up being the difference in the game.
Still, Walker had a pretty good spring and entered training camp as the favorite to handle the place kicking duties again this fall. Tausch proved to be better throughout training camp though and will start the season as both the starting place kicker and kick-off man. “Obviously Brandon was the incumbent as the field goal guy, but he beat him out,” said Weis. “Ryan (Burkhart) was the incumbent as the kick-off guy and he beat him out. For a freshman to come in and statistically win both positions rather convincingly, it means he’s done a heck of a job,” he would add.
Tausch being named the kick-off man was less of a surprise. Notre Dame has struggled with kick-offs for years and those struggles were only highlighted when kick-offs were moved back five yards in 2007. Tausch was expected to come in and provide some immediate help in that department.
“Besides having a strong leg and good pop, he has great elevation which is one of the reasons why he is also the kickoff guy,” Weis explained as the reason for naming the freshman the kick-off man. “ A lot of his kickoffs have been landing at about the goaline, but they’ve been getting such great hang-time that even if they aren’t five yards deep, it gives the coverage team an opportunity to be down there on top of them,” he added.
While some positions on the depth chart might still be up for grabs over the next two weeks, the kicking duties are not among them. “There’s no more competition to take place for those guys. Tomorrow when we kick field goals at the end of practice, there’s only going to be one guy kicking field goals. There’s not going to be two,” Weis told the media.
Field goal kicking has been an adventure for Notre Dame throughout Charlie Weis’s tenure at Notre Dame. Notre Dame fans have had an uneasy feeling in their stomachs before almost any kick throughout the previous four seasons. Notre Dame’s lack of reliable kicking game has also forced Weis to go for it on fourth down in situations where kicking the field should be a no-brainer (see the 2007 Navy game).
If Tausch can come in and provide some stability for the Irish in this department, Weis could also afford to be a little more aggressive once the Irish reach the red zone if he knows he has a kicker who can consistently put the ball through the uprights.
Before we get to that point though, Tausch will need to validate Weis’s decision by consistently connecting on his kicks in games the way he has in practice. As most Notre Dame fans will remember, Walker’s consistency issues were never as big of a problem in practice as he won every open kicking competition last year by a wide margin.
Maust Still the Starting Punter
Eric Maust was able to hold off freshman Ben Turk for the punting duties and will start the season as the punter for the Irish. Turk and Maust had a pretty even competition in camp. Weis had said previously that if the two were more or less even in their competition he’d go with the veteran in this competition. Weis also announced on Monday that Maust was awarded a scholarship along with Bobby Burger for this season.