Competition opens back up for job as Vanderbilt's kicker

Monday, October 31, 2011 at 5:17pm

On Saturday, Vanderbilt kicker Carey Spear missed a game-tying 27-yard field goal that would have forced overtime, which allowed No. 8 Arkansas to escape with a 31-28 win.

On Monday, Spear had company atop the depth chart. The sophomore is still listed on the first team but junior Ryan Fowler is an “or” option for the Commodores’ 11:21 a.m. contest at Florida this Saturday.

“He did not lose his job because of that one issue,” Vanderbilt coach James Franklin said of the missed field goal. “He is going to have to come out and compete [in practice] and make the coaches feel like he gives us the best opportunity to win on Saturday. That is the same every week, guys. That is the same answer every week.”

Spear’s kick near the right hash mark — his lone field goal attempt of the game — with eight seconds left never broke left and instead went straight, missing wide right.

The native of Mayfield Village, Ohio, handled all of the kickoff duties last season but is in his first year as the team’s starting placekicker. He has missed three of his last four field goals and is 4-for-7 for the season. His long was a 37-yarder against Army two weeks ago. He has also missed kicks of 47 and 38 yards — both against Alabama.

“The fact that Carey Spear missed a field goal at the end of the game ... did not lose the game for us,” said Franklin, whose squad, like Florida, is 4-4. “I can sit there and name eight to 12 plays that would have decided the game. Obviously, there is a different magnitude on the last two plays that happened at the end of the game. That is what everybody wants to focus their attention on but we could have put the game away a lot earlier than that. That [kick] did not lose it for us.”

Fowler spent the last two seasons as the Commodores’ starter, making 24-of-34 attempts. But last season he missed four of his last seven kicks and didn’t make a kick over 31 yards. Fowler’s career long is a 47-yarder against Kentucky two years ago.

Fowler, who is also the backup punter, lost the starting job to Spear during August preseason camp. Franklin said prior to the season opener that “you could flip a coin and put either of those guys in.” But he said Spear impressed him with his aggressive approach in practice and in the weight room. 

His teammates shared that sentiment, voting him as one of five team captains before the season.

“He is our guy,” offensive lineman Wesley Johnson said. “He is one of the hardest workers on the team. When you see a kicker in the weight room working as hard as everyone else, it really motivates you and you really gain a lot respect for him. I know he’ll be fine. He’ll bounce back.”

• Applause for Krause: Jonathan Krause took a vicious blow to the head on Saturday as he was attempting to field a punt.

Krause never caught the ball, which went several feet behind him, as Arkansas’ Marquel Wade delivered a helmet-to-helmet shot. Wade was immediately ejected and Krause stayed on the ground for several minutes before walking off with athletic trainers.

On Monday, Wade apologized, saying “I was wrong. I thought he had the ball.” Franklin said Krause, a sophomore wide receiver, was OK and he actually returned to the game to catch another punt.

“I’m really, really proud of Jonathan Krause. I made a big deal with our team about the toughness he showed,” Franklin said. “The shot he took, it is one thing to come back in the game. It is another thing to come back in the game and the ball is punted and you go back and do that job again. You trust the guys are going to do their job and protect you. You just have the toughness that, ‘I’m not going to start peeking, I’m going to put my eyes up, I’m going to catch the punt and do my job.’ That takes tremendous toughness because that was a legitimate shot he took.”

• Hayward honored: Senior cornerback Casey Hayward was named a semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, given annually to the nation’s top defensive back.

He is one of seven Southeastern Conference players to make the 15-player list. The native of Perry, Ga., is tied for fourth nationally with five interceptions this season. He is the SEC’s active career leader with 13 picks. He also has eight pass breakups this season, including six against Arkansas.

• Running wild: The Commodores have rushed for 766 yards the last three games. They had fewer than 500 in their first five games.

Zac Stacy has been in the middle of it all, rushing for 323 yards and five touchdowns the last three weeks. Stacy, who has contributed his success to gaps opened by the offensive line, leads the SEC in yards per carry (7.3).

“We’re playing better, but he is making us look awesome,” Johnson said. “I remember one play we ran the ball left. I thought I had a good block. My block really wasn’t that great, but he ended up making a linebacker miss and a corner and a safety miss and he took it I think 60 yards. It was a real good play by him.”

• In the bank: Vanderbilt had one remaining timeout following Spears' missed field goal. Rather than use it, though, Franklin allowed Arkansas to run the remaining time off the clock with one snap rather than two.

"I don’t think the game is ever over," Franklin said. "But when you get to the point with eight seconds left, you know, I just chose at that point not to use it."

• Dress up: The coaching staff will hold a Halloween party on Monday night, allowing the coaches’ families to trick or treat at the office. Franklin, his wife, and his two young daughters will dress up as the Incredibles from the Disney Pixar film.

• Kentucky game time: For the third straight week, Vanderbilt will have an early kickoff. For their final home game, the Commodores host Kentucky at 11:21 a.m. on Nov. 12, which will be televised on the SEC Network. Vanderbilt is offering discount $35 tickets with a canned good donation to the Second Harvest Food Bank.