- Associated Press - Saturday, January 7, 2012

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Cade Foster doesn’t sound like a guy discussing his own version of every kicker’s nightmare. Wide right (twice). Then short.

Then his team loses by, of course, a field goal. In overtime.

Foster’s three misses in second-ranked Alabama’s 9-6 loss to No. 1 LSU have become perhaps the most infamous kicks in a collection of botched boots in big games this season.

There was no escaping a rehash of Foster’s brutal November evening ahead of Monday night’s BCS title game, and the Crimson Tide’s kicker didn’t really try.

His affable, upbeat refrain to a steady succession of questions on the topic: He’s moved on. That’s old news. Just excited to be here.

“I think the world breaks everyone at some point,” said Foster, a sophomore who was made available to the media for the first time this season at BCS media day. “Some are strong at those points and others are weak. If you’re strong, you’re going to persevere through it. It definitely helped me grow and get mentally stronger.

“Until someone invents a time machine,” he adds, “I’m not going to worry about it because I can’t do anything about it.”

There was plenty of blame to sprinkle around from that first game.

A quick refresher: Foster missed from 44 and 50 yards to cap Alabama’s first two drives. He was short on a 52-yarder on the opening possession of overtime, though he did make a season-long 46-yarder. Foster declined to run through what happened on the kicks.

Brought on in relief, Jeremy Shelley, who normally handles shorter attempts, had a 49-yard line drive blocked by Bennie Logan in the second quarter.

On those four drives, Alabama’s offense had two penalties, two sacks and three negative rushing plays after penetrating LSU’s 30.

So, was it the kickers’ fault? Not entirely. Foster, who said the feedback from fans was largely positive, still had to temporarily shut down his Facebook page. He said he flipped off the TV after the LSU game but didn’t hide in his room or skip class.

Teammates have stuck up for Foster.

“I think the fans are entitled to their opinion and they can be critical of whatever they want to be critical (of),” Tide center William Vlachos said. “They certainly have been critical of me at times in my career. The way we look at it is, we’re responsible for giving them those 50-something yard kicks. That’s anything but their fault. We’ve got to move the ball when we get close to the 30-yard line.

“We’ve got to put them in better situations.”

It’s scant comfort to Foster, but he’s got plenty of company. This could be called the year of the kicker in college football, and not in a heroic way.

Stanford’s Jordan Williamson missed two kicks _ as time expired and in overtime _ that could have won the Fiesta Bowl. He and Foster are Texans who met at kicking camps.

“I felt his pain for that one,” Foster said. “He’s a great kicker and he’s going to bounce back from it and be all right.”

Virginia Tech’s third-teamer Jordan Myer made four field goals but missed a 37-yarder in overtime in a Sugar Bowl defeat to Michigan.

Late in the regular season, missed kicks helped damage the still-flourishing national title hopes of Oklahoma State _ the beneficiary of Williamson’s mishits _ and Boise State.

Few can relate better than Foster.

“This is a rare year,” he said. “I think as teams get better, as recruiting gets stronger, teams are going to be more evenly matched and the role of the kicker is getting magnified. That’s going to continue to happen as the game progresses.”

In a game featuring the nation’s two premier defenses, it’s hardly far-fetched to imagine college football’s finale being decided by a kick made or missed.

Last season ended with Auburn’s Wes Byrum hitting a game-winning chip shot against Oregon.

Maybe this time it will be Shelley or Foster getting that shot. Or LSU’s Drew Alleman, whose overtime kick decided the first meeting. Alleman has been much steadier, making 16 of 18 attempts and hitting all three times from 40-49 yards.

Foster is just 2 of 9 a year after missing just twice in the same number of tries.

Shelley has been far more accurate within limited range, going 16 for 20 with a long of 37 yards.

Alabama coach Nick Saban said what happened in the previous meeting won’t impact decisions in this one.

“I mean, if you’re in the NFL and you’re kicking over 45-yard field goals, maybe you’re 33 or 40 percent,” Saban said. “And if you’re a baseball player and you hit .333, it probably gets you in the Hall of Fame. But I think what we’ve tried to do with our guys is say, `Look, you had a bunch of low percentage kicks in that game and we are confident in your ability to just stay focused on the process of what you need to do to make your best kick.’”

Foster, who frequently responded with a polite “yes sir” and “no sir” to reporters’ questions, said he’d relish the opportunity to win a national title with that much-maligned right leg.

“I’d love it,” he said. “It would be great. I look forward to it. It’s an opportunity to succeed for me.”

The psychology of that statement is important for a kicker, who has plenty of time to visualize technique and even daydream of being the hero. It’s an opportunity to succeed, not an “Oh no, what if I fail” mentality.

Leigh Tiffin knows plenty about the highs and lows of kicking. He was an All-American on Alabama’s 2009 national championship team but had to overcome a miserable performance against Arkansas as a freshman.

He missed a 30-yarder in the fourth quarter, a 37-yarder in the first overtime and an extra point in the second in a 24-23 loss.

“Obviously it was a very psychologically damaging experience in the short term,” said Tiffin, who made 30 of 35 field goals as a senior. “In the long term it was probably the best thing that ever happened to me. It taught me how important it is to prepare well.”

Tiffin said the big-game electricity can work against kickers _ as has been demonstrated several times this season.

“If your nerves are high, it’s going to bring out the worst in people most times when you talk about this position,” he said. “It’s a lot like a marksman. Adrenaline is a friend of most players. A linebacker who’s got adrenaline pumping is going to be able to do even more in the game. It’s the enemy of the kicker.”

Tiffin got a text message from Foster after the first LSU game, prompting a 20-minute phone call.

“At that point he seemed like a person who was going to be very, very motivated to make sure that didn’t ever happen again,” Tiffin said. “Things like that definitely don’t fade quickly. It’ll be a long time before he forgets about that. If anything, it’s a source of motivation.”

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