NEW ORLEANS -- Alabama Nation took its best shot at Jeremy Shelley. The Crimson Tide kicker survived.
“It wasn’t anything bad,” Shelley said of the social media barrage that hit the junior following the events of Nov. 5. “I’d tweet something and they’d say, ‘You shouldn’t be tweeting, you should be out practicing kicking.’ “
Shelley was. Diligently. It just so happened that his one-for-two performance against LSU in the first meeting was part of a horrid two-for-six performance by Bama kickers.
“If you’re a baseball player and hit .333, it probably gets you in the Hall of Fame,” Nick Saban.
At Alabama, it gets you scorn. The failure of the kickers against LSU revealed a hole in the seemingly impenetrable Saban force field. Alabama goes into Monday’s BCS title game 94th nationally in field goal accuracy. Since the LSU game, Bama kickers have missed three of seven down the stretch.
Shelley, from Raleigh, N.C., is more or less the regular kicker having made 16 of 20 this season and 28 out of 36 in his career. Sophomore Cade Foster, a Texas native, is the long-range specialist beyond 42 yards. He is two of nine this season and only nine of 18 in his career. Foster made only one of four kicks that night against the Tigers, all between 44 and 52 yards. The final miss in overtime, from 52 yards, allowed LSU to win it with a field goal on its possession.
“I think what we’ve tried to do with our guys is say, ‘Look, you had a bunch of low-percentage kicks in that game,” Saban said. “We are confident in your ability to just stay focused.”
With everything on the line, again, that could be a problem in a field-goal game. LSU is third nationally in accuracy with Drew Alleman, who has missed only two of 18 kicks all season.
Alabama didn’t do its kickers any favors that night two months ago. The offense penetrated the red zone only once. Prior to that overtime kick, Alabama was flagged for illegal substitution. In the plays prior to those six field goal attempts, 'Bama completed only two of five passes and AJ McCarron was sacked. Net yards: zero.
“We put them in situations they shouldn’t have been in,” tailback Trent Richardson said. “Everybody likes to blame their kickers. It’s our fault, it’s not their fault.”
The kickers haven’t been allowed to talk to the media since the first LSU game. Strange, they can kick in front of 100,000 people but are judged unreliable to express their feelings. That’s Saban. That still doesn’t make it right.
“We knew going into the game that we would have a chance to make that big difference in the game,” Shelley said. “With the teams being so close, neither team scored a touchdown. I would have never thought that. It came down to us.”
After Nov. 5, both kickers tried to stay away from their various social networks. They probably were not alone. Kicking snafus allowed Alabama to get here to New Orleans. A missed field goal was largely responsible for Boise State losing its only game to TCU. The same for Oklahoma State in its only loss to Iowa State.
The postseason has been ruled by clutch kicks gone wrong. Both Virginia Tech third-string kicker Justin Myer and Stanford’s Jordan Williamson missed overtime kicks in BCS bowl losses.
The virus, it seems, is catching.
“It [criticism] comes with the position,” Shelley said. “Whether it’s a game you have to hit three field goals to win or it comes down to your foot in the last second, you’re going to be in the spotlight. It’s a matter of, you’re going to be a hero a goat.”
Shelley played youth soccer growing up. He found out about the pressure of kicking [a different ball] playing international games in Spain, England, France and Scotland.
“It’s not nearly as big of a stage, but not being used to what I’m used to now, it was very cool,” Shelley said. “You could have up to 5,000 per game.”
He knows the reps of all kickers. While teammates bust their butts in practices, they … kick.
“We’re not busting heads all day,” Shelley admitted. “Maybe we don’t work as much. Maybe we don’t work as hard. You can’t kick for three hours every day. The value of kickers has gone up tremendously, especially this bowl season. How many games have to come down to the kickers’ foot?”
Perhaps one more.
“I have no problem with the game coming down to our foot,” Shelley added. “I have complete faith in Cade and myself being able to put this game away. With this second chance, there’s a chance for redemption.”