In 2014 the Ducks will have one key element of a championship team that they haven't had in years: a stable, reliable, dependable kicker.
It's Matt Wogan's job, and he has the leg to kick a 60-yard field goal.
December 30th at the Alamo Bowl, he made his first three kicks. How long had it been since Oregon had three field goals in a game, or made a kick to win a game?
Body english: next year, the field goal will be an offensive weapon for the Oregon Ducks, instead of a last resort (Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports).
The fourth one hit the right upright, but by then the Ducks had a comfortable lead.
Rated the #2 kicker in the country out of high school, Wogan won the job for good after the Stanford game last season. For the year, he was 7-9 on field goals, 42-44 on extra points. He kicked 22 touchbacks. The coverage team limited opponents to an average starting position of the 24, and didn't allow a return of over 57 yards. After some early-season nerves, the freshman was solidly effective in that role.
He'll be even more comfortable as a sophomore, but not complacent. He told Steve Mims of the Register-Guard, "There is never a point where you are there. One hundred percent is what the goal is. To get to that point is my main focus.”
In the first year there's a natural adjustment period, and for the 6-2, 197-lb. specialist, that's over. He told Ryan Thorburn of the R-G, "At the beginning of the season, it was rough. In fall camp, I thought ‘This is weird.’ My timing was off, I was trying to get used to the college flow and college speed. Now it is just becoming second nature, going out and doing my thing and having fun with it.”
The Indian Trail, North Carolina native regularly hits them from 50+ in practice. Langston Wertz of the Charlotte Observer reported that in one game in high school, Wogan nailed field goals of 47- and 55-yards, was a perfect 9-for-9 on PATs and booted all 12 of his kickoffs for touchbacks. He punted once in a 69-0 victory, for 47 yards. "I've not seen three guys in my career with a stronger leg than Wogan's," Wertz wrote.
His high school coach, Blair Hardin of Porter Ridge High, praised his competitiveness and intensity, uncommon in a kicker. He told Wertz, “He’s a 4.0 (academic) kid for a reason,” Hardin said. “He’s a worker. He’s a weight room guy. He bench presses 300 pounds as a kicker. He kicks on the weekends. He’s always trying to improve some facet of the game, off the field or on the field.”
Wogan was a good enough athlete to play receiver and tight end as a prep. His teammates made him a captain.
Now he's in his second year at Oregon and the competition with Alejandro Maldonado and Eric Solis is behind him. He can focus solely on getting better, improving his range, strength, flexibility and focus. Wogan was back doing a workout on January 4th, just four days after the Alamo Bowl.
For the Ducks, having a kicker with a strong leg and a year's experience is a confidence factor for the entire team. To win the conference title for the first time in three years and contend nationally, they may have to win some close games. Getting that long field goal just before half, or making a clutch kick in the fourth quarter, is a dimension they haven't had since Jared Seigal and Nathan Villegas.
Getting points on the board could be the key against Michigan State, UCLA and Stanford, Now they have a kicker who is a strength instead of a question mark, and it could make all the difference.
Wogan also has a calmness, perspective and sense of humor. He comes from a great family with good values, something that will keep him grounded in the pressure of kicking in pressure situations. In a November episode of "Moose Time" Tyler Johnstone interviewed the kickers, and the takeaway a few months later is how unblinking and natural Wogan is with the lights on, not fazed by the camera or the attention.