Our final spring preview deals with the positions that don’t get talked about much, but many times have a direct effect on the outcome of a game and/or season: kickers and punters. The Irish appear to have the answer at each position. Can they live up to the expectations?
The number one kicker is sophomore Nick Tausch. Tausch surprised some by winning the starting kicking job last year as a freshman, but he did not disappoint. After missing his first career field goal attempt against Michigan, Tausch then nailed a Notre Dame record 14 straight finishing 14-for-17, including 3-for-4 from beyond 40 yards. Notre Dame hasn’t had a kicker that accurate since the Nicholas Setta days nearly a decade ago. Tausch did miss 3 extra points which is a point of concern, but not a deal breaker yet. He did miss the last three games of the season with an injury, which is probably the only thing wrong with his rookie campaign. If Tausch can avoid a sophomore slump, the Irish should have someone they can trust kicking all season long.
Senior David Ruffer is one of those great Notre Dame stories. After kicking on his intramural team, head coach Charlie Weis tapped Ruffer to walk on to the varsity squad to help with the kicking duties. Ruffer obliged and actually has made a difference. Last season after Tausch went down with his injury, Ruffer became the starting kicker and responded by hitting all five of his field goal attempts and nine-of-10 extra points. He provides a great insurance policy in the event of another Tausch injury. Ruffer could handle the kickoff duties this season. He had both of Notre Dame’s touchbacks in 2009.
Senior Brandon Walker is still with the team. Walker started in 2007 and 2008 struggling mightily with his accuracy. He did find a groove at the tail end of 2008, but was beaten out by Tausch last season. Walker then suffered a back injury that looked like it could threaten his football career. He’s battled back and will challenge for the kicking duties one again, but looks like a long shot. If anything, Walker will be an emergency option at kicker.
As for the punting position, it seems as if there is only one option right now. Sophomore Ben Turk is the only punter on the Notre Dame roster this spring. Turk split the punting duties last season, punting 26 times for 994 yards, an average of 38.2 yards. He did kick nine inside the 20 and had three punts of over 50 yards, which is a nice start. Turk had an up and down freshman season, but will need to improve his average. If he can increase his average by 6 or 7 yards, the Irish will have no problems at punter this season.
Notre Dame’s kicking should be in good hands, or feet as the case may be, with Tausch and Turk. Both just sophomores, they should only improve. Tausch was great last year missing only three field goals and extra points. If a game comes down to a field goal next season, Irish fans should be pretty confident with Tausch back there. Ruffer is a solid second option and Walker will only be used if necessary. That’s about as deep as a kicker position can ever be. Ben Turk may be the only option at punter right now, but he’s a pretty good option. If he can make even a slight improvement this year, Turk should have a fine season.