Walker on top of his game Saturday
Dan Murphy | Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Coming in to Saturday’s game against the Huskies Irish placekicker Brandon Walker had hit two field goals in six games. Walker doubled that number on a windy night in Seattle that saw a near-perfect performance from the entire special teams unit.
Walker’s struggles – six misses in six games including his first four attempts of the season – have been well documented and discussed frequently among the Irish faithful. Walker seems to have found his stride for the moment with three consecutive successful attempts, two of which coming from more than 40 yards away.
“You find one small thing in your form and you change it … and the ball will fly off pretty well,” Walker said.
The sophomore kicker was highly recruited out of high school and began his career by hitting four of his first five collegiate attempts. After that Walker hit a slump making only three of his next 14 tries leading up to the North Carolina game.
Then Walker hit a 42-yarder to start the second quarter against the Tar Heels.
“I don’t know if it was a confidence boost, I think overall it probably gave my team and the coaches more confidence than it gave me,” Walker said. “Every kick is a new kick.”
Walker said he found a glitch in his mechanics while watching film, and he was able to correct it.
Earlier this week, Irish coach Charlie Weis added some insurance to his roster in sophomore David Ruffer. Up until that time Ruffer was kicking field goals for Siegfried Hall in the interhall football league.
“I think having a little competition is always a good thing, [Walker] was pounding the ball pretty good out there today,” Weis said.
Walker said that Ruffer’s presence wasn’t really a big factor in his performance against Washington.
“A lot of people would say it would push me to be a lot better, but to be honest if I had lost my job or if I do lose it down the road that just means a better guy won the job,” he said.
Ruffer got his chance in the spotlight when Notre Dame scored a late touchdown, but rang the extra point attempt off the right upright.
“He definitely showed a few first-game jitters,” Weis said.
Walker siad that he talked to his counterpart following the kick and told him to keep his head up.
“I just told him to go out there and get the next one,” he said.
Walker successfully converted the first three extra points of the game to keep a perfect 24-for-24 tally on the season.
Ruffer’s slip up was one of the very few things that went wrong for the Irish on special teams in Washington. The kickoff team held the Huskies to less than 16 yard per return pinning them inside the 25 yard line on five of the seven kickoffs. Special teams standout Mike Anello had another big hit on Notre Dame’s second kick of the day.
“I think our kick coverage teams have been pretty solid all year. Overall, I think the special teams had a good game,” Weis said.
The punt team only saw the field once, but made a big impact when they did. Sophomore Harrison Smith cut off the snap and ran the ball 35 yards before he was dragged down by the Huskies punt returner. It was the second successful fake punt for the Irish this season, the first came three weeks ago at home against Stanford.
“It’s a look based on what other people line up in and when you see it you get pretty excited,” Smith said. “I knew it was gunna go for some yardage right when I touched the ball.”
That drive eventually led to Walker’s 42-yard kick that gave Notre Dame a very comfortable 27-0 lead with under five minutes to go in the third quarter.
Weis did not address the situation specifically after the game, but it seems that at least for the moment Walker has secured his job as the Irish kicker.