The Cougs have theoretically wrapped up their kicker (and possibly punter) for 2014 and beyond with the commitment of Tristan Vizcaino late Sunday evening, but there are still 12 games (hopefully 13) remaining for Apple Cup hero Andrew Furney and up-and-down punter Mike Bowlin. There will be a lot of expectations by the Cougar coaching staff and fans for these two seniors to step to the plate and deliver some bombs in 2013. If the two play to their capabilities the Cougs could potentially utilize the top kicking duo in the Pac-12 and one of the top in the entire country.
In jest, Furney is the “fat” kicker that gets made fun of by fans around the conference (5’10″, 215 lbs currently), but there are few who get the job done better and at least the Huskies don’t have a legitimate joke remaining in their cards for the kid. Truth be told, he’s slimmed considerably from his freshman and sophomore seasons and really isn’t that “fat” anymore (nowhere near Sabastian Janikowski range anyway). Regardless, after his senior year he should be known more for his “phat” leg than his body type, which is a good thing.
All kidding aside, Furney was a “pedestrian” 14-20 on field goals last season, but in order to qualify that number you have to take into account 2 blocks by free rushers against UCLA and a few of those misses coming from outside of 50 yards. But he also hit a 61 yarder against Eastern and drilled the two crunch-time boots against UW so he’s definitely good for a legitimate try from nearly anywhere on the field if it comes down to it.
Inside of 50, Furney is generally automatic and quite frankly should be used more often by Mike Leach this season if 4th down presents a scoring opportunity. The Cougs had several opportunities last season to put points on the board and opted for a 4th down attempt on offense. I believe it was a combination of Leach being fearful that his team wasn’t going to be good enough to keep up by garnishing three points at a time and the general Leach aggressiveness that has been a part of his career philosophy as a coach.
Expect Furney to get at least 25 attempts this season and miss only a few of them. It would be nice to see Furney in the national award race by the end of the season with his consistency and a decent WSU win/loss record. It would also be nice to see a more mentally stable group up front to protect the kicks, that UCLA game was a disaster and those mistakes are simply unacceptable if the team wants to challenge for big wins.
Mike Bowlin… (deep sigh). I have serious mixed feelings about Bowlin going into 2013. Mostly, I’m not sure what to expect from punt to punt and it makes me nervous. Part of his issues possibly stem from doubling in kickoff duty, which may contribute to a pure loss of focus from one kick to the next. Regardless, it needs to improve this season.
Transferring from Oregon he was known for his big leg and at times last season that was on full display. A 69 yard punt against Eastern (funny how both the longest kicks of the year for WSU came against the poor Eagles), and 13 more punts of over 50 yards suggest that he’s a completely incredible punter. At times, that’s obviously true but then you look and the season average is a mere 41.9 yards per! Some of that can be attributed to good touch with 8 punts inside the 20, but overall it means (and we saw far too much of it last season) that Bowlin had more than his share of absolute shank-jobs last season, and more often than not, they absolutely killed any momentum the Cougs had gained in the field position game.
Bowlin is capable of averaging close to 45 yards per punt if he can avoid shanks, but he shanked two in the Spring game so as of right now it’s still an issue worthy of discussion. Hopefully he adjusts better to the different challenges that come with both punting and kick-off duty at the major BCS level or Washington State’s defense will be put in some more precarious positions this upcoming season. WSU simply can’t afford that with a still developing offense and young defense.
Speaking of kickoffs, Bowlin is by far the best man the Cougs have had for the job in a long time, blasting 18 touchbacks last season, which is the most for a Cougar since 2005. Hopefully he’ll have several more opportunities to blast away on kickoffs this upcoming season if the offense gets in gear.