Michael Geiger might not be a name that means much to you… but it did in 2015. Early in a tight football game (7-7), Geiger missed a 42-yard field goal that would have given his team a lead going into the half. Instead, the opposition went on to take the lead in the third quarter. Geiger was looking like a worthy scapegoat in a potential loss.
As luck would have it for him, his team came back to tie the game and eventually wound up with the ball at the opponent’s 24-yard line with three seconds left. Geiger stepped up and made a 41-yard field goal to win the game… for Michigan State. You remember it. You also remember him running around on Ohio State’s field doing some sort of awful windmill routine. He, along with his team, celebrated a victory and he made national news. I apologize for bringing it up. I’m truly sorry.
In my example above, a player had two opportunities to make a field goal and failed in half of them. He really was just average on the day and still became the face of the victory against the Buckeyes. Be honest, aside from Zeke’s criminal lack of touches, that’s the image that you recall from the game.
Few positions in sports require a player to be on the field for less than one percent of the game and still take a brunt of the blame for a loss or a substantial portion of the responsibility for a win. A kicker in football does exactly that.
Usually, when you think back on a Buckeye player from years past, you have mostly good memories or mostly bad. A kicker, however, offers a gray option to that black and white breakdown. It’s entirely plausible that fans remember kickers differently than other positions, because they’re notably singled out in a team sport.
Sean Nuernberger, the Buckeyes’ current field goal kicker, fits that bill for many Ohio State supporters. Sean will be remembered by some as one of the best, most accurate kickers in the school’s storied history. By others, he’ll be merely a Buckeye footnote. And, to be quite honest, both opinions might be correct.
The Good Sean Nuernberger
To date, in the 2018 season, Nuernberger has scored 48 points, which is tops on the team. These points, in addition to the 276 that he began the year with, have put him above everyone but Dan Stultz, Pete Johnson, and Mike Nugent on OSU’s all-time leading scorer list.
Nuernberger, or Das Boot as a few people refer to him, has conference (yes, conference) records for:
- Kicking points in a season (128, 2014)
- Extra points in a season (89, 2014)
- Extra points in Big Ten play in a season (52, 2017)
- Consecutive extra points made (216, active)
In addition to those marks, Sean already has the Buckeye record for career PATs, which he may never relinquish. His name is splattered throughout the Buckeye record books, and he may become the program’s leading scorer within a few weeks of this post.
As you’ve read, he’s automatic with extra points. He’s NEVER missed. With all the factors that can go wrong, (shout out to long snappers, holders, and linemen!), the Bucks have done an amazing job of getting the ball to the ground and ready for Nuernberger’s blast. Move him out another nineteen yards and the story remains almost the same. Inside of 39 yards, Das Boot has made 30 of 35 attempts, good for a remarkable 86% field goal percentage. That number would easily be above every kicker in OSU’s history, including the great Mike Nugent (81.8%).
Well, it would be, if not for…
The Bad Sean Nuernberger
As I said, it would be the best field goal kicking percentage in Ohio State’s history, if not for the next ten yards. When the offense stalls at the 23-yard line and back, Nuernberger’s accuracy takes a significant and noticeable hit. He is a paltry six of fifteen from 40+ yards. Of those, five were made in his freshman campaign, where he went 50%. Since 2014, he’s made just one kick from beyond 39 yards.
The problem isn’t just Sean, as I’ll note in a moment, but each Buckeye kicker has seemed to struggle from outside of 40 yards in recent memory. In 2015, Jack Willoughby, a senior transfer, beat out Sean Nuernberger for the starting job. The following season, an injury forced him to the sideline for the duration of the year, allowing another transfer, Tyler Durbin, to accumulate kicking points. Despite new faces, the woes remained, as those two went two of eight from 40 yards and out, with Willoughby failing to hit on any of his three attempts.
From 2004 to 2013, Buckeye kickers nailed an impressive 73.2% of their kicks between 40 and 49 yards. In fact, they were better than a coin toss, hitting 55.5%, from beyond 50 yards! OSU kickers are just 37.5% from 40+, since 2014, and not a single 50+ yard attempt has been made. With those odds, why bother?
In the most recent game, against Minnesota, Sean Nuernberger was out with an injury, allowing Blake Haubeil, the kickoff specialist, to take the reins. Haubeil stepped up and nailed a 47-yard field goal. It was the longest since a 49-yarder against Penn State in 2014 (the one where the play clock may or may not have already expired).
I can’t tell you what to think of Sean Nuernberger’s legacy at Ohio State. He’s perhaps the most accurate kicker that the Buckeyes have ever had within a certain range, and obviously the best ever with extra points. And yet, it may be his inaccuracy beyond 40 yards (if not his health) that prohibits him from becoming the person atop the all-time scoring mark in Ohio State history. In fact, as of Thursday, Urban Meyer named Blake Haubeil the starting kicker for the matchup against Purdue on Saturday.