It’s evident that University of Miami’s 6-0, 215-pound sophomore kicker Bubba Baxa has a powerful right leg.
Now he needs to work on his confidence and accuracy.
Of all the frustrating things that happened the past three weeks in University of Miami’s losses to the Florida Gators and North Carolina, the kicking game is among those that stick out.
UM coach Manny Diaz said Monday on WQAM that coaches still have confidence in Baxa because “he’s so talented’’ and has that powerful leg. “He can do it,’’ Diaz told radio host Joe Rose. “But part of it is just the confidence and sort of the inner battle that we all fight to trust yourself and know you can do it.”
Baxa has been lights out in the kickoff department, booming all six of his kickoffs against North Carolina for touchbacks in averaging 65 yards. Against Florida, Baxa kicked three of five kickoffs into or beyond the end zone for touchbacks.
But Baxa missed a 27-yard field goal against Florida that would have given UM a six-point lead in the fourth quarter. And on Saturday at UNC, Baxa missed a 26-yard field-goal attempt with 8:46 left in the second quarter to culminate a 12-play drive, then missed a crucial 49-yard attempt with five seconds left that would have tied the score and sent the game into overtime.
Diaz said Baxa’s 27-yarder Saturday was partially deflected.
“That’s a back-breaker,’’ the coach told WQAM. “When you drive all the way down, you have to settle for a short field goal and to come away with no points is such a killer.’’
The coach equated Baxa’s situations to playing golf.
“If you start to worry about where the ball is going to go and if you start to try and aim the ball it starts to tell on your swing.’’
Baxa (2 for 4 in field goals Saturday) also had an extra point blocked Saturday with 2:58 left in the third quarter after Cam’Ron Harris’ 4-yard touchdown, to keep UNC ahead 20-19.
Baxa hit a career-long 50-yard field goal in the first quarter Saturday and a 21-yard field goal in the second quarter. Against the Gators, he made field goals of 36 and 42 yards.
Diaz conceded that UM (0-2, 0-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) has to improve its special teams protection in the kicking game and that Baxa needs to “get the ball up’’ more. The coach said you could see his talent in the 50-yarder he made early in the game. “It was almost the exact same kick he had at the end of the game.’’
Baxa’s backup on the roster is walk-on Camden Price, a 6-1, 175-pound redshirt freshman from Severn, Maryland, who did not see any action last season.
“In terms of if you went to scour the nation and said, ‘Let’s go find a different guy. Let’s go find a guy that has got the leg talent to do it,’ ‘’ Diaz said, “all you have to do is look at his kickoffs.
“The guy had a touchback every single time. He can do it.
“...And that’s where, look, this is not the NFL. You don’t have a free agent wire. You’ve got to put your arm around a guy, you’ve got to find a way to get it done. We think is he can conquer this. We think we’ve got a special talent on our hands.”
Last season, Baxa, from Pasadena, Texas, finished 9 of 12 on field goals and 45 of 46 on extra points. He missed just one field-goal attempt from inside 40 yards.
A few other notes from Diaz’s WQAM interview:
▪ On quarterback Jarren Williams’ poise against UNC (He finished 30 of 39 for 309 yards and two touchdowns, with no interceptions and two fumbles, which were recovered by UM):
“When you look at the entire season and the atmospheres we’re going to play in, for a first-time starting quarterback we probably put him in two of the most difficult situations he’s going to face all year,’’ Diaz said. “And then with what North Carolina does schematically. They’re very multiple — a lot of disguises, a lot of changes in coverages, bringing pressure from everywhere, I thought the way we handled that was great. very calm. Obviously we started the game very poorly and there was no panic. Once we got going I thought our dominance in terms of the way we played the game was really telling. The issue is that our dominance was not translating to points that it should have, and that was due to sometimes lack of execution in the red zone and some of our kicking issues.”
▪ On whether ‘big passing plays’ are being called:
“Yeah, they’re certainly being called. And probably the one thing between Jarren and [offensive coordinator] Dan Enos, the one thing probably in their film study after the game that really came up is on some of those shot plays and the ones we called — it’s not a video game, right? You don’t just say, ‘Press the throw-it-deep button’ and that means the ball automatically gets thrown deep.
“You have to read the coverage. So, usually there’s going to be a deep guy, there’s going to be an intermediate guy and there’s going to be a shallow guy.
Jarren is completing a high percentage of his passes because he’s able to come off and cover the short guy. And now he’s getting us 6 yards or whatnot. But a lot of times, even if the deep guy is covered, the intermediate guy is streaking across the field for a 20-yard completion that could be a catch-and-run for a lot more. And I’d say there’s probably three or four of those opportunities that we’re not getting to that guy even though he’s running wide open.”
▪ On the new lineup for the offensive line, with true freshman Jakai Clark starting at right guard and former right guard starter DJ Scaife moving over one spot to right tackle:
“We thought the only thing more fun than starting one true freshman is to start two true freshmen on the offensive line one the road. They really did well. No matter what, we expected an improvement and that doesn’t mean we don’t think that [former starting freshman right tackle] John Campell has got a great career ahead of him as well.
“But just in terms of the five guys who were staying connected and playing as one, we thought they did a very nice job. N.C. is a very multiple front, shifting right before the snap from a three down to a four down and doing a lot of things that can cause communication issues.”