I not so jokingly indicated that BTP will cover the Pack-UT game so intently that by kickoff on August 31st our intrepid readers will know the Vols' backup placekicker like a brother. A UT fan stopped by to post in the comments and reminded me that the Vols' backup placekicker, Derrick Brodus, actually has a really cool back-story.
Nothing could possibly show how important football is in SEC country than providing your kicker with a police escort to the game. Your tax dollars hard at work!
Follow below the jump to see how the kicking games of the two squads match up.
UT punter Matt Darr was a highly-decorated ball booter in high school. Punting expert Chris Sailer rated him the #1 punter in all the land, Darr was a MaxPreps All-America first team selection, and he was selected to play in the U.S. Army All-American bowl. Darr is more than just a punter, he's an athlete who played linebacker in high school and won state championships in the shot and discus. He had one punt blocked last season and picked it up and rambled for 30 yards.
But despite the hype and athleticism, the redshirt sophomore has had a fairly pedestrian career so far, so much so that placekicker Michael Palardy has challenged him for punting duties and replaced him at times a year ago. Darr punted 40 times last year for a very average 38.1 average, but he did pin opponents inside the 20 25% of the time and occasionally showed glimpses of promise with 3 boomers beyond 50 yards.
Palardy is expected to handle placekicking and kickoff duties. Palardy, a junior, has connected on 14 of 21 kicks in his career. He's been nearly automatic inside of 40 yards but just 3-for-8 from beyond 40. His career long is a 52 yarder, so he has plenty of leg. Palardy averaged a solid 63.1 yards per kickoff and booted 6 touchbacks. Like Darr, he had a punt blocked.
Palardy's most intriguing stat came not in the kicking game, but in the passing game. He was 1-for-2 through the air; his one completion netted 5 yards. For all I know, these were desperation tosses after a botched snap, but it would probably behoove the Pack to be aware of the potential for a fake kick, just in case.
UT will be breaking in a new long-snapper, redshirt junior J.R. Carr. Like State's snapper, Scott Thompson, Carr garnered high praise in high school and even attended kicking camps to hone his craft. Still, he is green and could be a weak link in UT's already unspectacular kicking game.
Rated as the nation's 3rd best punter out of high school, Wil Bauman had a solid if not spectacular freshman campaign for the Pack. Bauman averaged 37.5 yards per punt and had one blocked, but nearly half of his kicks ended in a fair catch and about a third pinned opponents inside the 20. His best game was in State's 5th straight win over Carolina; in that game, he trapped the Heels inside the 10 5 times.
Like Bauman, Niklas Sade was highly touted coming out of high school, and he was pressed into action right away as a freshman. Sade was great from inside of 40 yards, making 9 of 10 attempts, but just 2-for-6 beyond 40 yards with a long of 45. Sade matched a school record with 8 extra points against Maryland, and his 46 extra points on the season are the second most in school history. Hopefully he will add a little leg strength in his second season-he averaged 62.4 yards per kickoff with 5 touchbacks-and continue to get plenty of chances to tack an extra point on the board.
As a rare scholarship long snapper, Thompson completed the trio of true-freshman special teamers and was in on 112 snaps. The best thing you can say about a long snapper is that you did not notice him. That means he's doing his job. It's nice to have an experienced and competent snapper around for 3 more years.
For the most part the ball booters appear to match up pretty evenly. UT's duo had slightly better averages in terms of average punt and kickoff distance, but neither school's punter or kicker consistently displayed a booming leg. The Pack appear to have an advantage in the long snapper department, as UT breaks in a new starter. A botched snap could go a long way in determining the winner in what appears to be an evenly matched contest. Additionally, Bauman and Sade have the potential to take a step forward in their sophomore campaigns, whereas Darr and Palardy are third-year veterans that may have reached their ceiling. Vols coach Derek Dooley is definitely not satisfied with his kicking game, as Palardy is listed as in competition with Darr for punting duties, and Brodus is listed as in competition with Palardy for kicking duties on the spring depth chart. You do not want your special teams to be in flux after spring practice, so for that and all the reasons listed above, the advantage in the kicking game goes to N.C. State.