Nearly Perfect

Celebrating another field goal between the posts

Our post-season review of each Irish positional group begins at the top with a look at Lou Groza finalist David Ruffer and the field goal unit.

(*Note: The kick-off coverage unit will be reviewed separately.)

#1 Field Goal Unit

Starters and key reserves: Senior place-kicker David Ruffer; junior holder Ryan Kavanagh; senior long-snapper Bill Flavin. After a serious ankle injury during the contest vs. Tulsa, Flavin was replaced by junior center Braxston Cave. Ruffer, Kavanagh and Flavin are all walk-ons.

IrishEyes' pre-season rank: No. 5 (of 12)

Quote to note: "Ruffer came through. We were concerned about his operation time; we were never concerned about his leg strength and his ability to get it through the goal posts." – Brian Kelly following Ruffer's three field goal performance in the season-opening win vs. Purdue.

Ruffer on the trio's seamless operation: "Once I get on the field, I try to pick someone out in the crowd who is in the background of the goalposts and is wearing a bright hat. Ryan Kavanagh is one of my best friends and he will say something to keep me calm, but then from when the ball is snapped to when I kick it I don't know what happens. Then hopefully when I look up the ball is going straight in."

By the numbers: Ruffer was the only Irish kicker to attempt a field goal, drilling each of his 15 attempts with a season (and career-best) of 50 yards. He connected on 34 of 37 extra points (two blocked).

Best moments: Program record-setting 15th consecutive field goal (dating back to November 2009) occurred on a career-best 50-yard boot to extend Notre Dame's lead, 20-3 early in the second half…Scored 11 of Notre Dame's 23 points vs. Purdue (field goals of 22, 46 and 37 yards plus two extra points) and 11 more vs. Pittsburgh (field goals of 32, 50 and 31 with two PAT)…Nailed a 45-yarder to draw the Irish to within four, 14-10, in loss to Navy…

Holder Ryan Kavanagh's stab of an errant snap not only helped keep Ruffer's streak alive…it allowed the senior to break the aforementioned school-record. Kavanagh's expert handling of the low and inside snap coincided with Ruffer's 50-yarder, tied for the sixth-longest boot in program history.

Kelly noted of Kavanagh's effort on the hold: "I haven't seen anybody get the ball off the ground the way he did and put it in a position where the kick could be made. It was pretty good stuff."

Moments to forget: Three missed PAT two of which were attributable to Ruffer, most notably a boot off the left upright to conclude the half at USC with the Irish leading 13-3. The tenor of the game negated the miss (USC never crept to within two or three points prior to tying the score at 13), but it appeared to be a perfect hold of a somewhat off-target snap.

Ruffer also had an exceptionally low PAT blocked vs. Pittsburgh in a 23-17 victory. That error could have doomed the Irish as the Panthers had an outside chance with a final drive beginning deep in their own territory near the end of the contest.

The only miss that ultimately plagued the Irish was a blocked PAT vs. Tulsa which the Golden Hurricane returned for a two-point score in their 28-27 upset in South Bend. Tulsa's crucial two-point play was the result of DL Cory Dorris splitting the Irish snapper (Bill Flavin) and right guard (Lane Clelland) for the point-blank block.

His absence from the field on Notre Dame's final drive vs. Tulsa – especially when the Irish breached the Golden Hurricane red zone – ranks as one of the all-time head-shakers in play-calling history. Neither he (nor backup Nick Tausch below) has attempted a game-winning field goal in their careers.

Key backup: Sophomore Nick Tausch did not attempt a field goal or extra point this season. In a related statistical oddity, Tausch set the program record last season with 14 straight successful field goals. He also missed three extra points as did the record-setting Ruffer this fall.

Class status: Former William & Mary transfer can apply for a 5th-year of eligibility for 2011. As of mid-November, Ruffer was undecided on his future plans with returning to Virginia to begin his professional (non-football) career a possibility.

Final Analysis: No need for paralysis by analysis. Ruffer's never missed. He's the best field goal kicker in the nation. Period.

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