As we wind up for the kickoff of the 2021 football season, we are will spend this week asking answering our the five biggest questions we think the UCF Knights will have to answer coming into the season. But this year, we’re doing it a bit differently than in the past: Round Table Style.
We wrap with Question #5: After a tough 2020 that saw way too many close losses, will the Knights’ field goal fortunes improve?
Kicking is hard at any level. We take it for granted all the time, and yet #collegekickers is a thing on Twitter.
Last year UCF came face-to-face with the reliability of the kicking game. Daniel Obarski’s miss against Memphis proved costly, even though that was the only game UCF that was actually decided by a missed kick. He also missed three extra points.
In Obarski’s defense, his 12/17 mark on field goals as a sophomore wasn’t all that bad when you consider the following context:
Matthew Wright's junior season at #UCF (2017): 13/18 (72%), 9/12 (75%) inside 40 yards.— Jeff Sharon (@Jeff_Sharon) December 8, 2020
Daniel Obarski's sophomore season (2020):
11/16 (69%), 11/14 (79%) inside 40 yards.
But still, coaches need their kickers to be reliable. And sometimes the best route to reliability is competition.
On the roster now are Garin Boniol, son of former Dallas Cowboys kicker and current Tampa Bay Buccaneers special teams assistant Chris Boniol, as well as Appalachain State transfer and New Smyrna Beach product Ryker Casey. Both will push Obarski to keep his job.
Will he? I have no idea. We just have to wait and see how it all shakes out. And given how the first game against Boise State could be very close, we may not have to wait long.
There’s a reason why they say the kicker is the most lonely person on the team. They either are the GOAT or they’re the goat. Unlike other positions, they have one chance to get their job right and there are a lot of moving parts to make it work. Where are they on the field, the field condition, the wind, the snap, the hold, the timing, the footing at the point of contact, the follow-through, and more?
UCF has had uncertainty in their kicking game before, spanning a time after Michael Torres and before Matthew Wright. This isn’t a new challenge for the Knights. Newer fans have been spoiled with Wright and Dylan Barnas being better than average college kickers. Daniel Obarski has a cannon for a leg. His kickoff numbers are great. Unfortunately, this accuracy as a placekicker has been fair for a college kicker. We’ve seen worse and we’ve seen better. Obarski will be remembered for missing the game-winning kick against Memphis. When kickers miss a game-winning kick, they often get more blame for that moment than they should. Yes, they had one job and they failed to do it, but the bigger failure tends to be elsewhere as to why they had to be reliant on that one kick to win the game.
We didn’t get to see transfer Ryker Casey in action at the spring game and Obarski had a rough day. It’s safe to assume at this juncture that any improvement in the kicking game itself will be incremental, but the hope is that the rest of the team performs at a level that does not make a win or loss fully reliant on the leg of a kicker.
This is such a difficult question to answer because it relies on one person. You would think that would make the question easier to answer, but it does the opposite.
When most of us think of Daniel Obarski, we think of the Memphis game, kicking for the win down one, and it misses to the side. So we already have this negative thought when thinking about the team’s kicking game.
There’s also the clip that permeated in the middle of the offseason when Gus Malzahn scolds Obarski and says “You’re gonna make me go for it fourth down!”
Obarski could hit 39 of 40 field goals this season, but if he misses a game-winner, then fans will deem that the kicking game has not improved because he could not conquer the demons from that Memphis field goal.
Hopefully, the offense scores touchdowns instead of field goals and this question becomes null and void, but if called upon, I do think Obarski’s past failures can help him if the moment arises again. That being said, nothing before the kick matters when you line up for a field goal. You simply have to just do your job and kick it through the uprights.
This is a make-it-or-break-it season for Daniel Obarski going into his junior year. It’s not that going 12 for 17 last season is bad in the general sense of collegiate kickers. However, when your career-long is 38 yards and you miss a game-winning kick against Memphis, it’s not going to do you any favors with fans.
In one of Malzahn’s first wildly circulated clip from practice as UCF’s head coach, he was shown telling Obarski that he was going to make him “go for it on fourth down doing crap like that.” Who’s to say if he was being serious or if that was just classic tough coach speak during practice?
In any case, Obarski’s job is clear: hit more accurately from farther away, and make sure he becomes more consistent so that he can be confidently called upon when he’s needed the most.
In 2020, Obarski hit on 71% of his field goals (12 for 17), but had no makes of longer than 38 yards, and was 0-fer from 40-49 yards (0 for 2). His competition, Ryker Casey, comes from App State, where he was a kickoff specialist but attempted as many field goals last year as I did (zero).
Obarski did have a rough spring game, and there was a clip from the start of fall camp where coach Malzahn was getting after him from missing a shot, but with an actual special teams coach to, well, coach him, there is some hope for improvement.
Looking at our past few kickers, we’ve definitely been spoiled. But, if you watched a certain bowl game on 12/24/2005, then you will never feel totally comfortable with any kicker on roster.