On Saturday, Connor Culp experienced what it’s like to be hugged by Ed Orgeron.
Culp booted a 45-yard field goal in a rout of UT-Chattanooga in last weekend’s home opener, an irrelevant three points in a 45-10 victory. The redshirt freshman returned to the sideline to find LSU’s head coach open-armed and smiling.
A “bear hug,” Culp described, ensued. How was it?
“Strong,” he smiled.
The kicker gave his coach a promise, too.
Said Culp: “I told him, ‘Sorry about the last one (miss). It won’t happen again.’”
Culp’s pledge underscores what may be the primary issue on this team through the first two games. LSU’s field goal kicking is off to a rocky start, the bugaboo — along with 21 penalties — as the 12th-ranked Tigers (2-0) ready for a trip to Mississippi State (2-0) this weekend.
Culp, a redshirt freshman, and Jack Gonsoulin, a sophomore, are a combined 3-for-6 on field goals. The misses were all inside the 50: 34 and 40 for Gonsoulin; and 47 for Culp. Culp missed that 47-yarder Saturday only after Orgeron pulled Gonsoulin following his misfire.
The field goal-kicking battle between the pair — one that Gonsoulin won during camp — has reignited. The two are locked in a battle this week in practice, Culp said, alternating attempts as graduate assistant Chris Forestier charts the makes and misses.
The starter, Culp presumes, will be decided based on the statistics at practice.
“Guess we have to see how this practice goes,” he said. “I’m sure we’re going to have some sort of extensive charting for this week and see who will travel and go.”
While that competition rages, another seems more settled.
Senior Cameron Gamble replaced Culp as the kickoff specialist last weekend. He boomed three of his eight kickoffs as touchbacks against Chattanooga, a stat that makes Orgeron smile. He recorded a 65.5-yard average on his kickoffs. That’s more than 2 yards longer than Culp’s average in the Superdome in Game 1 and it ranks in the top 5 nationally.
Gamble admits he got help from the wind on a few of those, but, still, he’s re-secured a gig he held, off and on, over the previous two seasons.
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LSU’s scheme on kickoff has changed with the new coaching regime. Former special teams coordinator Bradley Dale Peveto and coach Les Miles directed kickoffs to a specific spot. Orgeron and special teams analyst Greg McMahon want touchbacks.
It was welcome news for the kickers.
They were told of the schematic change in a meeting with Orgeron and Forestier, the special teams graduate who relays McMahon’s coaching to players. As an analyst, McMahon cannot speak directly to players about football.
“It was kind of funny. When they told me and Connor how we’re going to do kickoffs, me and Connor both, almost simultaneously, had a sigh of relief: Oh, thank God,’” Gamble said. “It’s so much better mentally for us to be like, ‘Hey, I don’t have to worry about placing it in a certain place. I just need to kick it into the end zone and it be far enough for a touchback.’”
The Tigers were one of the nation’s worst over the previous two seasons in touchbacks: 103rd in 2016 (20 percent touchbacks) and 116th in 2015 (16 percent touchbacks). Gamble was flagged five times the last two seasons for booting the ball out of bounds.
“Coach Miles was like, ‘I want you to make it to the numbers and (sideline).’ That’s why most of my balls … not most but quite a few were going out of bounds because he wanted this precise location, very accurate,” Gamble said.
All three kickers have their strengths. Gamble is working mainly at kickoff, Culp is working at both, and Gonsoulin primarily is at field goal, Culp said.
The absence of a special teams coordinator isn’t a hindrance, Culp said. It’s rare for college teams to have a coach specifically assigned to instruct kickers and kicking techniques. Most special teams coordinators on the college level specialize in cover and return units only.
Kickers coach themselves, he said. That was the case last season at LSU, too.
Danny Etling’s experience with cowbells is singular — a cowbell.
“You’ve got to teach yourself, watch your own film,” he said.
“You bring up a good point that if Coach (McMahon) were a full-time coach, they could get coached better,” Orgeron said Monday when asked about lacking a special teams coordinator. “(McMahon) will be a guy to highly consider when the 10th coach becomes available (in January).”
For now, the field goal guys are in the crosshairs of criticism. This program is just a few gmaes removed from having two of the more consistent kickers on the college level. The last two starters, Trent Domingue and Colby Delahoussaye, made nearly 75 percent of their field goals (35 of 47).
“I don’t really think about it, stay off media and shut everything out,” Culp said. “If you want to be successful in kicking, you’ve got to have a short memory.”
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