Keenyn Crier measures success with a stopwatch.
The Arizona Wildcats' punter is at his best when he takes two seconds to catch and boot the ball. When Crier rushes - which is often - it's more like 1.8 seconds.
"The difference, it's huge," Crier said. "I've just got to relax when I catch the ball and do my thing."
The rest of the Wildcats' special teams will head into this weekend's game against Washington State with two directives: focus and relax.
For all its success this season, Arizona (4-1, 1-1 Pac-10) has struggled to both kick and punt. It cost them in last weekend's 29-27 loss to Oregon State.
Place-kicker Alex Zendejas missed a 37-yard field goal attempt before halftime, then shanked a third-quarter PAT. Crier punted three times for 134 yards, and kickoff specialist John Bonano failed to register a single touchback.
Despite their mistakes, coach Mike Stoops said Monday he won't make any personnel changes.
Crier, a senior, is the only punter on the roster. Zendejas' only backup is Bonano, who has the leg - but not the consistency - to be the starting place-kicker.
"His accuracy needs to improve for him to be a reliable option," Stoops said.
Zendejas said he "can't explain" the reasons behind his second-quarter miss, which - had it gone through - would have cut the Beavers' lead to 17-10. His snap was good, if a bit high, and the hold was perfect.
"I just pushed it a little bit right, and that was it," he said.
The PAT, however, may have been a product of the Arizona Stadium turf. Both Zendejas and OSU's Justin Kahut, who missed a fourth-quarter attempt, were done in by divots.
"Personally, I don't like our field," Zendejas said. "There are divots in the ground, but I can't blame it on that. It was a bad day; everybody has them."
Unlike Zendejas, Crier can pinpoint the reasons for his struggles.
The UA punter said he gets so excited in games that "I start freaking myself out a little bit." By slowing his heart-rate down and relying on muscle memory, Crier can get better distance and hang-time on his punts. The extra two-tenths of a second - enough time to take a quick breath - are huge. The Wildcats are last in the Pac-10 and 103rd nationally with 33.1 net yards per punt.
"When I'm focused, my mind's not even thinking about the game. I usually have a song going through my head. I'm dancing to it on the sideline," he said. "That's usually when I'm at my best."
Zendejas and Crier's struggles have made the close friends even tighter. The two visited Zendejas' uncle, former UA kicking great Max Zendejas, this week at his campus-area restaurant. Over pork chile verde, the three special-teamers talked about getting better - and letting go.
"For a little bit, we can talk about how we can get better in practice. After that, get over it," Alex Zendejas said. "That's one thing about kicking, you have to have a short memory. It's hard at the time, but you have to do it."
On StarNet: Follow the Cats on reporter Ryan Finley's blog at go.azstarnet.com/finley
• What: Arizona at Washington State
• When: 4:30 p.m. Saturday
• TV: Versus
• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM
special teams a mixed bag
The Arizona Wildcats special teams have been alternately excellent and abysmal through five games. Here's a look at where the Wildcats rank nationally in five categories:
Field goal percentage:
tied for 75th (4 of 6)
44th (20.65 yards per return)
3rd (29.27 yards per return)
103rd (33.10 yards per punt)
82nd (7 yards per return)