Special teams have been a struggle for Nebraska through the first three weeks. Poor tackling and lane discipline on coverage units along with penalties and missed blocks on return teams have resulted in a significant disadvantage in terms of field position, but the problems have directly impacted the scoreboard too.
In addition to the punt return for a touchdown the Huskers gave up against Troy, Nebraska has also left six points on the board in missed field goals. The Huskers have lost their two games by a total of 10 points.
True freshman kicker Barret Pickering missed a 43-yard attempt in the season opener against Colorado, his only field goal attempt of the day. He also missed his first attempt, this one from 33 yards against Troy, last Saturday. Pickering didn’t offer any excuses in terms of nervousness or anything like that; he simply missed the kicks.
“Honestly, it was just two mishits to start out the season,” Pickering said. “I just can’t let it get to me and get the next ones rolling.”
That’s what he did in the second half. Following a muffed punt recovery by freshman cornerback Cam Taylor at the Troy 8-yard line, the Huskers ran the ball twice for a total of 2 yards then threw an incomplete pass on third down, putting the ball back into the hands — or rather, on the foot of — Pickering. From 23 yards out, he nailed the kick to get the Huskers on the board early int he third quarter.
“Trust me, I was in the booth praying that he was going to hit it good because I think as cool and calm-headed as Barret is, I think any time you end up missing a few kicks it can mess with your self-esteem and self-confidence to a certain degree,” special teams coordinator Jovan Dewitt said.
“There was nobody happier for him than me — maybe his parents,” Dewitt continued. “When you have a kid who’s got as much talent as Barret has, for him not to realize success early in games with some critical kicks, it hurts you a little bit because you know the talent level that the kid’s got and you want to see some of that talent come to fruition. When it doesn’t come early for him, you’ve got to make sure that you maintain his confidence and keep him going in the right direction because he’s got the ability to be a really, really, really good, special place-kicker.”
Pickering nailed his second attempt as well, a 32-yard kick that made the score 17-13 Troy with about three minutes to go in the third quarter. However, after the game he was the first player to speak with the media out in the hallway and he was more focused on the one he didn’t make as opposed to the two that he did.
“It felt good,” Pickering said. “But at the end of the day, I didn’t perform like I should have to help the team out.”
Pickering beat out redshirt freshman walk-on Cole Frahm during fall camp, but that battle did not necessarily end when the season began.
"It's always a battle,” Dewitt said. “Every single day. Every day there's going to be a competition for every position on the field, specialists included.”
Pickering now has a pair of made field goals under his belt, some friendly competition driving him in practice and a coach who believes in his talent. Moving forward, Nebraska needs results.
That being said, it is worth noting that Drew Brown only converted 66.7 percent of his kicks (14-of-21) as a freshman. Pickering is off to a 2-of-4 start but those two makes have come on his last two attempts.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.