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Kicking inconsistency has been a factor in Utah's 4th-down decisions


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SALT LAKE CITY β€” The distance was 43 yards away, but Kyle Whittingham didn't want to take the chance.

There was no wind or inclement weather, it was just cold β€” less than 30 degrees for much of the game β€” at Autzen Stadium. On the previous drive, Oregon drilled a field goal from 41 yards out to give the home team a late 3-point lead, so a field goal from that distance wasn't impossible β€” at least for the Ducks.

Utah was at Oregon's 26-yard line and faced a fourth down situation with just under seven minutes left to play. A made field goal would tie the ballgame, but a first down could potentially give Utah the lead. The offense needed only 2 yards, after all.

A missed field goal in the scenario wasn't on the table β€” Utah already missed a field goal attempt earlier in the game from 38 yards out.

The Utah coaching staff played the odds and kept quarterback Cam Rising on the field in hopes to pick up the first down and continue the drive. As luck would have it, tight end Dalton Kincaid was open near the Utes sideline and the first down was imminent. Rising tossed the ball to his open receiver, but as the pass left his hand, it was clear it wasn't going to be an easy connection.

Rising's pass was under thrown to Kincaid's feet and the tight end couldn't corral it to gain the necessary yards β€” turnover on downs.

"Just wasn't good enough," Rising said after the game. "Didn't do what we needed to do to be successful, and kept shooting ourselves in the foot. I've gotta play better, personally, myself."

It's a play Utah has run many times with Rising and he's gotten the offense out of a tricky situation.

The decision to keep the offense on the field in that situation isn't unusual β€” the analytics recommend going for it in opponent territory; in fact, it was a "go" up to fourth-and-7, Whittingham said β€” but it's one that Whittingham has felt obligated to turn to this season as a result of an inconsistent kicking game.

The team relies heavily on analytics and the "feel" of the game in situations like Saturday, but Whittingham said "watching the field goals in practice" weighed heavily on the decision to stick with Rising and not attempt a kick for a tie game. This season, it's been a safer bet to risk a turnover on downs than attempt a field goal.

"Yeah, it has affected it β€” probably four to six times, I'm gonna say, this season where it could have been a bigger factor in drives," Whittingham said about the team's decision to not settle for a field goal. "... That always helps to be consistent."

Utah has cycled between two place-kickers this season β€” Jordan Noyes and Jadon Redding β€” but consistency has been an issue for both, especially from moderate to long distances. There's been no consistency in anything further than 30 yards out, which is anything beyond an opponents' 13-yard line, essentially.

This season, Utah is just 3-of-7 in field goals 30 yards or more β€” a 42.9% success rate β€” and none have been attempted more than 50 yards out. Last season, Utah was slightly better at an even 50% success rate on 6-of-12 attempts, which included two kicks over 50 yards.

In total, Utah has made only 66.7% of its field goals this season, which ranks 96th out of 131 teams in the FBS. It's the lowest field goal percentage for the Utes since 2012 when Utah made only 61.5% of its field goals, though 2021 and 2019 weren't that much better, either.

It's not been enough to give Utah's coaching staff the confidence it needs to rely on the kicking game, even in a close game. Utah likely still goes for it on fourth down in that same situation given all the indicators, but having belief in the team's place-kickers could add potential value to the equation.

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Josh is the Sports Director for KSL.com and beat writer of University of Utah athletics β€” primarily football, men’s basketball and gymnastics. He is also an Associated Press Top 25 voter for college football.

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