Keeping on his toes

His footwork not so fancy this year, Crier still striking
2009-12-04T00:00:00Z 2014-09-15T08:57:56Z Keeping on his toes Ryan Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
December 04, 2009 12:00 am  • 

Keenyn Crier can relive his greatest college accomplishment whenever he wants.

Isn't YouTube great?

Filed under the headline "USC/Arizona What a Punt!" is a 41-second clip of Crier's 83-yard boot against USC two years ago.

The kick - which started at Arizona's 16-yard line, hit at USC's 15 and rolled to a stop at the Trojans' 1 - remains one of Crier's favorite moments. It was also a yard short of a UA record - Bill Hargis nailed an 84-yarder against Rice in 1930.

"The thing I remember the most is that I was a freshman, I was super-nervous, and I was playing in L.A. on national television," Crier said. "My first punt, I hit one really bad, and Joe McKnight almost returned it all the way on me. I had to make up for it. I hit the 83-yarder, and it just took off."

Crier will take memories of the big punt back to Los Angeles on Saturday, when the Wildcats (7-4 overall, 5-3 Pac-10) take on No. 20 USC in a game that will determine both teams' bowl fates.

The Wildcats' punter will try to recapture a little bit of his freshman year magic, too.

Crier has yet to show the improvement expected of him as a junior. He is averaging 42 yards per punt this season, down 1.9yards from his sophomore year and 1.7yards from his freshman season. Crier managed to put the ball inside his opponents' 20-yard line 38 times in his first two years combined; this year, that number is just 10.

Crier's sagging numbers have to do with a lack of opportunities - Arizona punts just 3.818times per game, its fewest attempts in 55 years - and some bad luck.

The rest, special teams coach Jeff Hammerschmidt says, is technique.

Crier's "get-off" - the amount of time it takes him to catch the snap, swing his leg and deliver a punt - is about 1.9seconds in games. In practice, however, Crier takes three-tenths of a second longer to unload.

Toting a stopwatch, Hammerschmidt's job is to get Crier to practice faster. A split-second can mark the difference between overkicking the coverage and nailing it perfectly, between a blocked punt or a beauty.

"He does a great job with his tempo in games. In practice, we have to worry about getting that same tempo," Hammerschmidt said. "The key is, in practice, to start getting him to put pressure on himself."

Crier's got that part covered.

An admitted perfectionist, Crier has been less than happy with his performance this year. The punter has given himself a grade of a "C" so far this season, even though his big boots single-handedly put the Wildcats in a position to win two games.

Crier averaged 45 yards per punt in a Week 4 win over Oregon State and received a game ball for his efforts. Crier's precision punting in last week's win over Arizona State contributed to Kyle Williams' last-minute muff. Arizona's Mike Turner recovered the fumble, and Alex Zendejas nailed a 32-yard field goal at the final gun to win it.

"At ASU," he said, "I did pretty good."

Hammerschmidt says the key is consistency.

Arizona's coaches, players and fans have been spoiled by Crier's big-leg ability in recent years. While his numbers are down, Crier is still fifth in the Pac-10 and tied for 42nd nationally in punting average.

"He goes out there, and he hits one 36 yards, and it rolls so its 40 yards, and everybody goes, 'Goshdarnit Keenyn,'" Hammerschmidt said with a laugh. "But then you look at it and you realize its a 40-yard punt with no return; that's pretty good.

"That's the thing with everybody's expectations. They see what he can do and they're so excited. We don't understand sometimes that it's actually a really good kick."

It's just not always YouTube worthy. Crier will dig into the archives again before Saturday's game and relive the 83-yarder again.

"I'll watch it again as a reminder," Crier said. "For confidence."

On StarNet: Follow the Wildcats through Saturday's game at USC onto the bowl season on Ryan Finley's blog at go.azstarnet.com/finley

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