Unseen Void: Ducks Must Replace Ray Guy Finalist
By John Baker
Believe it or not, the Oregon Ducks don't always score seconds after they get the ball back on offense. There are those rare occasions when the Ducks don't score or when Chip Kelly decided not to go for it on fourth down in 2012.
Fortunately, when the Ducks did line up to punt, something they did a surprising 51 times a year ago, they had Ray Guy Award finalist Jackson Rice 15 yards back awaiting the ball. Rice averaged 40 yards a kick after coming off a 45.9 yards per kick average in 2011. Rice's 2011 put him on the Guy watch list for 2012 and while the average was five yards shorter, he still delivered 14 kicks inside the 20-yard-line and kept opposing offenses pinned back nicely while the Oregon offense caught its collective breath.
Now he's gone and the Ducks will have to decide between multi-purpose kicker Alejandro Maldonado or junior college transfer Dylan Ausherman. Head coach Mark Helfrich has repeatedly talked about letting the competition play out through the summer, but the money here is on Ausherman to win the punting job and continue the tradition Rice established.
The Ducks plunked a scholarship onto Ausherman's shoulders upon his arrival in Eugene, which comes with certain expectations. And the lion's share of those expectations are that, after sitting and watching one of the nation's best punters ply his trade in Eugene last year, he'll step into the lineup and deliver much the same type of production.
Ausherman is wiry guy at just a shade over 6-foot-3 and a modest 180 pounds and a good enough leg to be a star at the Chris Sailor Kicking School.
Maldonado punted three times in 2010 when Rice was out with a case of mono. He's a solid guy whom you can depend upon, but his leg is average for a punter and his ability to place the ball probably isn't as good as Ausherman's. The newcomer said he spent last year's redshirt season watching Rice and gaining more and more confidence in his own abilities.
Now, moving onto the bigger stage doesn't seem so daunting to the Visalia, Calif., native. That's good, because the Ducks now play on college football's biggest stages and he'll need to perform. Despite Oregon's fast-paced offense, there have been games when the Ducks watched its offense struggle, stumble and essentially fail to get started. In those moments, Rice was often at his best by pinning opponents deep in their own territory. For an offense that seldom played the field position game, Rice was quietly adept at switching the field position and providing the unanticipated boost with a big punt or important pin-back.
As Helfrich said, he just wants the punting candidates to compete. They will through the spring, summer and into the fall. When the dust clears, look for Ausherman's wait to be over.