While most of the Big Blue Nation’s attention has been on the quarterback competition, there’s another ongoing position competition that will have a greater impact in the win-loss column.
This fall Kentucky must replace Austin MacGinnis, the school’s all-time leading scorer that secured at least a pair of season-changing wins throughout his illustrious career. Finding another MacGinnis is impossible, but special teams coordinator Dean Hood believes the Cats have a couple of exceptional replacements on the roster.
Senior Miles Butler and true freshman Chance Poore have battled for the position throughout the preseason. Hood has been pleased with each player’s progress.
“They’ve really been pretty consistent as far as accuracy,” he said earlier this week, although Hood did note there was a learning curve for Poore. “He had to get used to the timing of it. It’s a lot faster snap. It’s a lot faster hold. It’s a lot faster everything and he had to get used to that.”
To determine accuracy and ultimately the winner of the competition, every kick in practice has been charted.
“The biggest part of it is charting every single kick, from this hash, that hash, the middle, the distance and all that and checking the accuracy of it. That’s all fine and well until those distances mean we’re going to go up by a point with a minute to go.”
Just like the quarterback position, experience is invaluable. You don’t really know what’s going to happen until the kicker’s name is called in a pressure-packed situation.
“I can probably make eight out of ten free throws out in the driveway, but if I gotta make two to win the game, that’s a big deal. You don’t know until you get them out there,” Hood said.
Hood is confident that Butler is comfortable in that situation. Last season he was forced into action to punt against Vanderbilt, and in 2015 Butler knocked in all four of his field goal attempts and 11-of-12 PATs in place for the injured MacGinnis. Max Duffy does not have collegiate experience, but the punter has played in front of comparable crowds in Australian Rules Football games. The other punter, Grant McKinniss, will take the kickoff duties as he consistently knocks them 7-8 yards deep into the end zone.
Butler will likely be Kentucky’s starting placekicker, but he may not take every single kick for the Cats this year. The former walk-on is excellent from about 45 yards in, but the bombs that MacGinnis hit to beat Louisville and Mississippi State were both from more than 47 yards.
If Kentucky needs to hit a field goal from deep to win the game, Mark Stoops may rely on the true freshman. In an ideal world, Poore will only play in a maximum of four games to retain redshirt status.
“You’d hate to go out in there and in one kick lose it (the redshirt)…but that one rep may win you a game. That’s a decision Coach Stoops will have to make.”
In essence, Kentucky will employ a two-kicker approach when necessary. Poore has drawn the short-straw. The freshman’s only job is the most difficult job: make the longest field goals with the most pressure on the line. I do not envy Chance Poore.