Stats show 'icing' kickers has been more effective this year
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Calling a timeout in an attempt to ''ice'' a kicker before a critical field-goal attempt has become almost as routine a decision for coaches as punting on fourth-and-long.
Whether the strategy actually works is a subject of much debate, but statistics show it's been particularly effective so far this year.
When a coach has called a timeout this season just before an opponent has tried a potential tying or go-ahead field goal in the last two minutes of the fourth quarter, kickers have gone on to make just 36.8 percent (7 of 19) of their attempts, according to STATS.
That's significantly down from previous seasons. Kickers had made 81.8 percent of their attempts (18 of 22) in those circumstances in 2012, 64 percent (16 of 25) in 2013, and 80 percent (28 of 35) last season. The stats were from games involving at least one Football Bowl Subdivision team.
The wide disparity in those annual percentages shows how much a game of chance ''icing'' has become in an era when every kicker expects it to happen.
''It's a coin flip basically,'' Arizona kicker Casey Skowron said.
Skowron's track record exemplifies that. Arizona lost to Southern California 28-26 last year because the Trojans called timeout just before he made a potential game-winning field goal, and he missed his second attempt. Later that season, Washington called a timeout just before Skowron missed a field goal in the closing seconds, and he made his second try to give Arizona a 27-26 triumph.
STATS doesn't have numbers to indicate how often the strategy has backfired because a kicker missed an attempt just before the timeout and made a kick immediately afterward.
No. 22 Iowa remains undefeated thanks in part to an opposing coach's attempt to ice Hawkeyes kicker Marshall Koehn. Last month, Pittsburgh's Pat Narduzzi called a timeout just before Koehn missed a 57-yard field goal in the final seconds of a tie game. Given a second chance, Koehn made a game-winning kick.
''Any practice rep you can get before a real rep is good,'' Koehn said. ''You only get so many live kicks in games. To get a practice one was pretty beneficial.''
One week after the Iowa-Pittsburgh game, Southern Mississippi's attempt to ice Nebraska's Drew Brown backfired in the second quarter of the Cornhuskers' 36-28 victory when he made a 50-yard field goal after a timeout nullified his previous miss from that distance.
''There are very few kickers at that level who really buckle under the pressure because of the fact they were iced,'' said Chris Sailer, a former UCLA kicker who now works with top high school kickers at various camps. ''I think if you take a poll and say would you rather have an extra minute-and-a-half to prepare during that timeout, or would you rather go out there right away, I think most kickers would say, `I really don't care.' ''
Checking the historical trends of when it's best to try this strategy doesn't necessarily pay off. Tennessee coach Butch Jones remembers examining research on the topic during his Cincinnati tenure.
''What we found is if it was a younger kicker, you'd want to ice him and call timeout right before the snap,'' Jones said. ''If it was a veteran kicker, if you're going to ice him, you'd ice him early.''
So when Cincinnati and Louisville were tied in overtime in 2012, Jones called a timeout just before redshirt freshman kicker John Wallace attempted a game-winning field goal. A high snap went through the holder's hands and ruined any potential kick, but Jones' timeout nullified the play. On its second chance, Louisville made the field goal.
''I think there's no right answer,'' Jones said. ''People have different philosophies, but a lot of time it's a gut feel for the game and how it's going.''
Even kickers themselves have different opinions on whether calling a timeout works.
''It seems like it would be smart because whenever I go out on the field, I want to kick as soon as I can,'' Brown said. ''If there's a timeout, it just delays it that much more and you have that much more time to think about it.''
Skowron says he benefited from Washington calling a timeout last season because it essentially gave him a practice kick.
''When they call a timeout, we snap it anyways because basically it's a free opportunity to kick it and get a feel for it,'' Skowron said. ''I heard the whistle and kind of hesitated a little bit but still kicked it.''
But that strategy also has risks, as Ohio recently learned.
Ohio trailed Minnesota 27-24 with seven seconds left on Sept. 26 when Minnesota called a timeout before Ohio's Josiah Yazdani tried a 53-yard field goal. When Yazdani kicked anyway, Ohio received a delay-of-game penalty.
NCAA rules allow officials to penalize a team under that circumstance for ''deliberately advancing the ball after it is dead,'' though it's rarely called.
''They felt that there was enough of a delay there that we were just getting in a practice kick,'' Ohio coach Frank Solich said. ''It's certainly in the rules that way. How that plays out week to week I think is sometimes a little different than how it's written in the rulebook. I've never seen that called in a game in my career, and (Minnesota coach) Jerry Kill mentioned he never saw it called in a game, but technically it can be called.''
Consider that just one more thing that must be considered in the ongoing dilemma on whether to call timeouts before critical kicks.
AP Sports Writers David Brandt, John Marshall, Luke Meredith and Eric Olson contributed to this report.
AP college football website: collegefootball.ap.org