Arizona's Skowron ready for next game-winning attempt

Arizona's Skowron ready for next game-winning attempt

By Anthony Gimino / Special for Tucson News Now

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Arizona Wildcats kicker Casey Skowron is over it. He was over it sooner than you might have thought he was over it. Kickers need to have a short memory and a clear head.

Skowron was reading all the invectives and threats on social media while sitting in the cold tub after the USC game - the one in which he missed a 36-yard field-goal attempt in the final seconds of a 28-26 loss. That stuff was out there. He knew it. No sense hiding from it, denying it.

But the only words that mattered to him came from inside the locker room, not from the anonymous chorus chanting, in so many words, "You suck."

The important words came from coach Rich Rodriguez, who said, "You're our kicker and we're going to put you out there 100 more times."

They came from linebacker Scooby Wright, who told him, "It doesn't come down to one play, just shrug it off."

They came from receiver Austin Hill, who told Skowron, "I still love you."

"So many family members and good friends, all of my teammates and coaches, were reaching out to me," Skowron said after practice this week.

"There were so many people I could have talked to. I was pissed off for most of Sunday (after the USC game), but I got over it quick. I had to come out to practice on Tuesday and be able to perform."

Skowron's mental health checks out just fine. His leg was fine, too, in his return to the field last Saturday at Washington State. Nothing too stressful, but he made a 31-yard field goal early in the game and all eight of his extra point attempts.

"The kick against USC had nothing to do with the kicks against Washington State," he said. "The way I think of it, I can't go back in time and change it. I just have to do everything I can going forward to keep making kicks."

So, what happened against USC?

Skowron initially had appeared to kick the winning points, but Trojans coach Steve Sarkisian had called a timeout right before the snap to "ice the kicker" and attempt to make Skowron nervous for the re-kick. An Associated Press story from September showed such strategy is essentially ineffective.

The wire service reported that in the past two seasons, opponents iced the kicker 50 of 110 times in close, late-game situations. When iced, kickers converted 72 percent of the time. Not iced, kickers made the field goal 73.3 percent of the time. Nearly identical.

Skowron, though, said the timeout did make a difference - just not in the way people might expect.

"Everyone has asked if I was nervous," Skowron said.

"I think the problem was that I was too calm. The first one I was very relaxed because I knew I was going to make it. And then after making the second one, I was like, 'OK, I got this.' And I think I was way too calm and kind of lost my focus a little bit as a result.

"I should have made it. I'll come out here and make it nine-and-a-half times out of 10."

But if you lose your focus, you lose your technique, and the next thing you know, the ball is adrift, wide right in the biggest football moment of your life.

With the Wildcats at 6-1, having played five games that were undecided in the final couple of minutes, it's reasonable to assume Arizona is going to find itself in more close games, which means Skowron will be a factor, although it might not be as dramatic and singular as a last-second kick.

The junior has been solid in his first season as the starter. He has converted 14 of 19 field-goal attempts, with a long of 49, and all 32 of his extra-point tries. He is above average on kickoffs, with 60.7 percent (31 of 51) going for touchbacks. The national average for touchbacks is 39.2 percent.

And he's pretty dang good on onside kicks. Arizona recovered 1 of 2 against Cal to help fuel the wild Hail Mary victory, and Skowron had another successful one against the Trojans, the ball taking a perfect hop over a USC player.

"That was the kind of thing where I picked out the guy and said, 'This is going right over your head.' I do that sometimes," Skowron said.

Cayleb Jones went high to grab the ball for the recovery ... which led to the scenario that kickers really dream about - the late-game field goal.

"Unfortunately, dreams don't always come true," Skowron said.

There's still time.

He can't go back and change the kick against USC, he can only be prepared for the next one. Short memory. Clear head.

"There are still people that are doing stuff," he said of the reaction on social media.

"My reaction is, 'Who are you?' If you want to say something, you're more than welcome to come and have a conversation or whatever, but I don't think I'm going to meet these people in person. It's in one ear and out the other."

Anthony Gimino has covered University of Arizona athletics for more than two decades, including as the football beat writer for the Arizona Daily Star and the columnist for the Tucson Citizen.

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