A lot has to happen this fall for Notre Dame to rebound from last year’s 4-8 debacle. One player specifically can go a long way towards helping the Irish bounce back if he himself is able to return to form – kicker Justin Yoon. The junior kicker suffered through a bit of a sophomore slump in 2016, but a healthy Yoon could be a real weapon for the Irish this fall.
Questions on the full health of Justin Yoon lingered last year. He reportedly struggled mightily in fall camp last year but it looked like he had rebounded by the end of camp. Those rumors never went away as Yoon didn’t like the freshman phenom we all say in 20915.
Those injury rumors culminated with Yoon sitting out all of spring practice to rest his leg, but he’s returned to the field for fall camp. If he returns to the form we saw from him as a freshman, Notre Dame could have one of the best kickers in the country standing on the sidelines giving the Irish coaching staff the confidence to know that they don’t have to score touchdowns every drive.
As a freshman, Justin Yoon was just short of spectacular. He connected on 15 of 17 field goal attempts including a 52 yarder against Navy – the third longest field goal in Notre Dame history. For some more context, this is how Yoon’s freshman campaign stacked up.
- Yoon’s 95 points were the second most in school history just three shy of Kyle Brindza’s record of 98 points in 2013.
- He was just two extra points shy of the single season school record set by DJ Fitzpatrick (52) in 2005.
- One more note on that 52 yarder against Navy. The school record is just one yard further – 53 – but was hit three times and most recently by Kyle Brindza.
As a sophomore, Yoon attempted 17 field goals again but he made just 13 of them. There were also instances where Kelly went for it on 4th down instead of letting Yoon attempt longer field goals. Yoon attempted just two field goals over 40 yards and none of 50 yards last year. He attempted four such field goals in 2015.
If Yoon looks more like the kicker we saw as a freshman and takes the step forward many thought would come last year, Notre Dame will have a real weapon on their hands. Having a reliable field goal kicker who you feel comfortable with on anything under 50 yards is a luxury not many college teams have. Unlike the in the NFL where 50+ yard field goals are commonplace and anything shorter is almost a guarantee, reliable and accurate kickers with range in the college game are a luxury.
If Brian Kelly feels confident his kicker if going to connect on a 45 yard field goal, it could change the play calling once the Irish get close to the redzone. If they know Yoon is going to most likely be able to convert a field goal, maybe they take a chance at the end zone on third down from the 30. At the same time, having confidence in Yoon could maybe, just maybe allow Notre Dame to run on a 3rd and 2 or 3 instead of relying on the pass. I know, I know, but a guy can dream can’t he?
Notre Dame isn’t taking too many chances with Yoon either. To help Yoon get through the season, Notre Dame is taking the kickoff duties off his plate with freshman Jonathan Doerer likely handling the gig. That will let Yoon focused 100% on place kicking.
Will the focus pay off this fall? Hopefully. Yoon’s slight step back as a sophomore is believed to be in part at least because of a tired leg after Yoon handled both kickoff and placekicking duties over the last two seasons. For as good as Yoon has been place kicking the last two years, he has also managed to miss two extra points in each of the last two seasons as well. Yoon is simply too good of a kicker for that to happen.
Notre Dame also got much more serious about special teams in the off-season jettisoning Scott Booker and bringing back Brian Polian to coordinate the Irish special teams. Polian had been let go by Nevada after four seasons as their head coach. Now back at Notre Dame, the Irish should see a resurgence in all special teams units under Polian’s direction.
If Yoon improves on both his freshman and sophomore seasons this fall, he has a chance to put himself all over the Notre Dame record book. At his current pace, he could break the records for field goal percentage, field goals made, and PATs made. As is he would hold the record for field goal percentage already if he had enough attempts.
All of the ingredients are there for Yoon to become one of college football best kicker’s this fall. If that happens, the Irish will win a couple close games they could easily lose and Yoon’s name will start taking over the Notre Dame record books.