Football Hayes & Cannon

Sean Nuernberger: Das Goat?

Sean Nuernberger Ohio State Football Buckeyes

Ohio State’s all-time scoring leaders list reads like a “who’s who” of NCAA running back legends. Ezekiel Elliott falls just short of the top ten after amassing 264 points on 44 touchdowns in his illustrious career. Just eight points above Zeke is Eddie George, who managed to find pay-dirt one time more (and had a two-point conversion). His 272 points is good for the ninth-highest total in Buckeye history.

Five spots above Eddie is perhaps the best dual-threat running back that Ohio State has ever had in Keith Byars. He would likely be tops in the rankings had it not been for an injury to his foot that kept him out for most of his senior season.

Surprisingly to some, Archie Griffin doesn’t make an appearance as a scoring leader despite his hardware collection. That’s largely because his fullback at the time, Pete Johnson, garnered most of the short-yardage duty. Don’t call him a touchdown vulture, as he’s no Mike Tolbert, but punching it in for a TD at the end of a long drive was Johnson’s forte. Thus, it’s no surprise that he’s the second-leading scorer in program history.

So, if some of Ohio State’s greatest players of all time are only holding down three of the top ten spots, who else is filling in the gaps on this incredible list?

Well, kickers, of course.

It makes sense. Touchdowns are spread over an entire offense, but it’s typically the same guy marching in on fourth downs or after the touchdown to try and add more points onto the scoreboard. Dan Stultz, Vlade Janakievski, Rich Spangler, Tim Williams, and Drew Basil fill in the list from three to ten, with the eighth-place person still unmentioned, but I’ll get to him in a bit.

At the very top of the list is Mike Nugent. The same guy that holds the record for most field goals in a season, with 25 in 2002. Oh, and he’s also second and tenth place in the same category, as he made 24 and 19 in 2004 and 2003, respectively.

“Nuge” managed 356 points as a Buckeye. He’d have an even bigger margin separating him from Johnson if not for a forgettable freshman season. You may recall that he and Josh Huston battled for the position as freshmen in 2001. Despite only making half of his field goal attempts, he edged out Huston (yes, you read that right, 50% won the competition) and went on to Buckeye greatness.

All of that has led us here. Ohio State will have a new all-time scoring leader after this season, and his name is Sean Nuernberger. The senior kicker sits just 80 points shy of Nugent’s record.

It’s okay. I don’t mind. I fully expected you to read that and go fact-check me. Heck, some of you may still not be familiar with the guy that’s kicked for OSU for two full seasons, part of a third, and been on campus for four.

Nuernberger making a PAT in the Spring Game

Nuernberger was a top kicker recruit out of Oldham County in Kentucky. In addition to a powerful leg, he apparently has excellent timing. He stepped onto campus and into a starting role under one of the best coaches in the nation, and one who appreciates the kicking game.

Urban Meyer’s high-powered offense is an ideal landing spot for a kicker hoping to put up big numbers. Those numbers get even better when the offense is run by the most accomplished QB in school/conference history.

“Das Boot” (as the kicker of German descent is occasionally called) ranks eighth overall already and could have scored a boatload more. In 2015, graduate senior transfer Jack Willoughby earned the majority of attempts, only leaving 26 points for Nuernberger. The next season, Tyler Durbin won the kicking job, leading to a redshirt year for the Kentucky kicker.

Nuernberger bounced back in 2017, tallying 122 points on 71 PATs and 17 field goals.

Nugent was (and may remain) the poster boy for Ohio State kicking. His legacy is built upon his ability to consistently nail big kicks. Three of the school’s top six field goal percentage seasons belong to him. He holds the most successful 40+ yard attempts, the most 50+ yard attempts, and the school record for 24 consecutive field goals. For those reasons, many of us — myself included — just assumed that Mike Nugent would go on being the all-time scoring leader for quite some time. He was Mr. Automatic, so it seemed fitting.

While Nuernberger may not yet be on par with Nugent, Meyer has himself another Mr. Automatic in his own right. Nuernberger’s never (!) missed an extra point in his OSU career, knocking in an incredible 177 straight (OSU record). Tressel’s Buckeyes, in four years with Nugent as the kicker, managed a total of 148 PAT attempts. Of those, Nugent made 136 (Josh Huston made 9 in that time, as well).

The lowest made PAT total under Urban Meyer was 56 in his first season in 2012. The offensive juggernaut has only improved since, and 56 extra tries seems a given with today’s roster. But even that low mark would mean Nuernberger would only need eight made field goals to tie Nugent. To date, thirteen is his lowest field goal total in a full season of play.

Nuernberger has averaged over eight points per game in his career thus far. If, at a minimum, the Buckeyes play their regular season and one bowl game (not counting a conference and/or national title appearance), Nuernberger would be on pace for 108 points. That tally is conservative, but would still have him finishing his playing days at around 384 points.

Good enough for the top scoring spot in the history of Ohio State football.

Not bad, kicker.