By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 23, 2010; 12:12 AM
CHARLOTTESVILLE - Virginia place kicker Robert Randolph moved to a smooth cadence on the field last season. Snap, hold, kick. And off the field he would go. The Cavaliers might have struggled to a 3-9 record in 2009, but Randolph's performance drew accolades and high expectations entering his junior season.
But after converting 17 of 19 field goal attempts last season and being named a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award, given annually to the nation's top kicker, Randolph has yet to make a field goal through the Cavaliers' first two games this year.
Virginia coaches are quick to point out that fault for the team's field goal struggles does not lie solely on its kicker's shoulders, but even if Randolph is the victim of a bad snap or hold, he acknowledges that a job that requires immense concentration and fluidity has become flooded with distraction and vacillation.
"It is frustrating, especially coming off the good year that I had last year," said Randolph, who was named to the preseason Groza Award watch list. "And then just not being able to produce this year, it's real frustrating. I guess that's just from not having the most confidence in our snap-hold-kick operation right now. That's probably what slows the times down and makes me hesitate, instead of going right at it."
If all goes as planned Saturday against division I-AA Virginia Military Institute, the Cavaliers (1-1) will be afforded opportunities to address a number of issues that have been focal points at practice during the past two weeks. Coach Mike London on Monday listed three primary areas of desired improvement: third-down conversions, penalties and the kicking game.
After reviewing film from Virginia's 17-14 loss Sept. 11 at Southern California, London determined that timing was the main culprit in his team's field goal miscues. The entire operation, he said, was too slow.
Randolph said the optimal time to get from the snap to the kick is between 1.2 and 1.3 seconds. In the Cavaliers' four field goal attempts this season, Virginia's snap-to-kick time has been in the "mid-to-high 1.3 seconds," according to Randolph.
A tenth of a second "isn't a huge difference just talking about it," Randolph said. "But in real life that can make a huge difference in how much penetration is getting through, the defensive linemen on the other side getting their hands up."
Against USC, Randolph missed a 45-yard attempt wide right on Virginia's first possession and came up short on a 35-yard try that was partially blocked with less than four minutes remaining. On the second attempt, the snap from senior Danny Aiken was high and tight, London said, which led holder Jacob Hodges to brush the ball against his side as he brought it down. Hodges had to adjust the ball, which disrupted Randolph's approach.
Randolph also came up short on a 50-yard attempt during Virginia's season-opening win over Richmond. He has missed as many field goal attempts in the past two games (three) as he did during his first two years at Virginia (20 for 23).
London has said that Randolph and junior Chris Hinkebein routinely make field goals from 50 to 55 yards out during practice, but their success has not carried with them on Saturdays. Hinkebein missed a 51-yard attempt against Richmond.
The Cavaliers are one of two division I-A teams to have attempted more than one field goal this season and not converted.
"We have to try to get that fixed as fast as we can because it looks like a lot of our games are going to be close this year," special teams coordinator Anthony Poindexter said, "and it's going to come down to being able to make field goals."
During Virginia's bye last week, the team zeroed in on its execution in the kicking game. London said he implemented a live rush and other forms of pressure against the field goal unit in an attempt to force them onto the same page.
"The snap, the holder and the kicker, they're integral parts of the success of that, and so we tried to do some things with crowd noise, with our players standing over them hurling insults at them," London said. "You miss a kick, the whole team is going to run, which is quite effective. Maybe I need to do that in a game. Before you run out there, you basically are going to run sprints if it's a miss."
Randolph said the difference between last year and this season has everything to do with rhythm. In 2009, he did not hesitate when the ball was snapped. He approached the space where the ball would be, swung his leg and knew the result: three points.
It is imperative, Randolph said, that "the whole system" - snap, hold, kick - rediscovers the rhythm that made last season so successful. Until then, Randolph is prepared to make necessary adjustments.
"If the ball is there, then it's there; if not, then it's just not there," Randolph said. "But something I know I have to do is just go right at it and be confident in my ability."