College football: Week 5 special teams spotlight: UNC Tar Heels
Kickers don't always get their just due in college football. To put it bluntly, the kicking game is just not as scintillating for some fans as a long touchdown pass or a bruising run to the endzone.
There is one instance though where field goal attempts get to be the belle of the ball: late-game scenarios. Nothing makes the mundane of lining up for a field goal attempt come more alive like a scant few seconds remaining on the game clock.
The swell of the crowd, the cadence between a kick and holder, the snap and the rest is just physics.
Most fans can agree that game-winners have some extra oomph though, but there's little solace when one ends up on the short side of the equation.
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Against Pittsburgh, it was a late fade route from quarterback Mitch Trubisky to wideout Bug Howard that put the Tar Heels on top. On Saturday against Florida State, it was North Carolina place-kicker Nick Weiler's chance to bask in the glory.
Cue the spotlight.
Well, first the Tar Heels needed a drive to get in position to score and reclaim the lead. Junior quarterback Mitch Trubisky and the Tar Heels would have 23 seconds to work with, trailing 35-34.
Starting at the 25-yard line, a quick pass from Trubisky to wide receiver Mack Hollins gained 23 yards out toward midfield. An incompletion on the next play left nine seconds on the clock. Another pass attempt on second down fell incomplete, but a pass interference call on Florida State extended the drive and helped set up the final play of the game.
Weiler stepped onto the field with four seconds left in the ballgame. Despite the aforementioned misses, he only needed to make one kick on the day.
Given the way that Trubisky — the UNC quarterback — has been playing, it's hard to imagine any other Tar Heels players taking home the proverbial game ball, but something about knocking off a conference foe on the road and erasing a 22-game home winning streak for Florida State in the process sounds like it deserves some recognition.
And boy is Weiler really enjoying an extra bit of notoriety this week for his game-winning field goal on the road against Florida State.
After nailing the 54-yard kick as time expired to seal a 37-35 victory over Florida State in Doak S. Campbell Stadium, Weiler took off running around the field while he performed FSU's trademark tomahawk chop — a gesture likely much to the chagrin of the hometown faithful.
Weiler told Aaron Beard of The Associated Press that after the game his phone would not stop vibrating with messages from friends and family because of the kick and subsequent celebration.
The reaction to the game-winning kick has drawn almost as much attention as the play itself, but it's not clear that many had reason to be so confident as the native of Fairax Station, Va., trotted out with the game on the line for the Tar Heels.
Given Weiler's performance this season in the kicking game (5-of-8 on field goals, including misses from 35 and 42 yards out), and more specifically in this game (a missed 51-yard try and a botched extra point), the odds of converting a 50+ yard kick were not in the Tar Heels favor.
Sometimes coaches just roll the dice and see what happens, and in this case, everything came up roses for head coach Larry Fedora and company.
However, it's worth noting that this game might not have gotten to this point if not for a superb effort from the defensive side of the special teams unit.
Despite jumping out to a 21-0 lead, North Carolina was the beneficiary of three missed field goals by Florida State's freshman kicker Ricky Aguayo — brother of former Seminoles place-kicker Roberto Aguayo (now with the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers).
This is not just a case of a freshman getting the yips because Aguayo can boot the football with the best of them.
He had been 11-of-12 on field goal attempts this season prior to Saturday's ballgame (fifth in the nation in made field goals), but the Tar Heels defense managed to force two misses on a pair of 45-yard kicks and also blocked a 52-yarder as well.
Winning on offense and defense in football is paramount, but solid play on special teams can pay a real dividend in the outcome of a game. On a day with 60+ points combined, the difference between North Carolina and Florida State proved to be the only made field goal attempt of the day. Sometimes the devil is in the details. MORE: North Carolina jumps up to No. 17 in AP poll
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