Craig Stephens

Gators Look For New Kicker

Created on Mar. 22, 2013 11:00 PM EST

The Gators have a question mark at one of their most important positions, kicker. Before you quit reading, let me tell you why kicking is crucial for Florida. Florida's offense was something short of dynamic last year. However, Florida could always put up three points. For the Saban-esque team that Will Muschamp is trying to build, a reliable kicker is crucial.

Muschamp likes to control the ball, grind out the clock, and stay ahead in the field position battle. This means the team's offense plays conservatively and worries more about protecting the ball than making big plays. This style does not score many touchdowns, so having a good kicker lets Muschamp put up three points at the end of drives and then ride his defense to a win.

Last year, the Gators were able to rely on the foot of Caleb Sturgis. He was one of the most consistent, and arguably the best kicker in UF history. The loss of Sturgis is causing a change of philosophy for the Gators' offense. posted some enlightening quotes from Muschamp on the situation:

“It changes your approach, changes your game, your calls,” he explained. “We’re doing one-minute [drills on Friday]. … Our guys need to get the ball to the 37-yard line with Sturgis walking on the sideline. Now we need to get a lot closer. And your confidence factor is a little different. It changes everything. Now we cross the 50, you’re on the 42 … now you got to call a vertical route. [Pease’s] call was a lot different than it would have been a year ago.”

It is clear that the coaching staff values the position and is focused on finding a capable replacement for Sturgis. The two players that are competing for the job are senior Jonathan Phillips and freshman Austin Hardin.

Phillips has kicked in games in the past, but the bulk of his experience has been on kickoffs. Hardin is a complete question mark. The Gators are hoping that one of them will stand out during spring practice and develop into trustworthy option outside the red zone.

Without a steady kicker, the Gators will be forced to throw into the end zone more. Florida seemed reluctant to put young quarterback Jeff Driskel into those situations last year. With a team desperate for points, losing a senior kicker without a competent replacement could prove to be the difference between a championship and a trip to the Outback Bowl. 

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