From a technical standpoint, kicking field goals in high school should not be much different than kicking field goals at the collegiate level. But like everything else, it comes with nuances and isn’t as black and white as it appears.
Logic states that the ability to kick a 45-yard field goal should be about the same, regardless of setting. If anything else, it should be easier to do so at the next level. You continue to develop physically and have access to better facilities and coaching. But that’s not always the case, as we’ve learned from Jake Pinegar as just one recent example.
Pinegar joined the Class of 2018 as a scholarship recipient, which isn’t something that can be said for all specialists. After a shaky start to the season, many fans wondered just why Pinegar was given a scholarship at all. In the first four games, Pinegar connected on just one of his three attempts. It was clear that he didn’t have the trust of the coaching staff yet, as they routinely opted for a short punt deep in the opponents’ territory, or just to roll the dice on fourth down.
Pinegar was called upon more in week five against Ohio State, with mixed results. He nailed two short field goals, but missed a 43-yard attempt. This made Pinegar 0-for-3 on attempts of more than 40 yards to start his career. That would simply not cut it at this level, and questions grew louder if Pinegar was the long-term solution moving forward.
Things began to change in week eight against Indiana. Pinegar managed to connect on both attempts in brutal, swirling winds. The long may have just been 32 yards, but it showed progress.
Pinegar would use that momentum to have his biggest game yet against Iowa- a game that looks to completely change things moving forward for Pinegar and his role with the Nittany Lions. He was perfect on the day, nailing three field goals of 44, 45 and 49 yards for what turned out to be his finest game yet as a Nittany Lion. It was the perfect time for Pinegar to come on, as Penn State needed every last score to hang on for a pivotal victory during a key stretch of the season that could still go in either direction.
The first field goal easily set a career-high at 45 yards, and allowed Penn State to enter the half tied, despite a mistake-filled first quarter that saw them quickly down 12-0. He then drilled a 49-yard field goal to give the Nittany Lions a 27-17 lead and some breathing room in the third quarter. His third and final field goal put Penn State up 30-24 and may have helped avoid another disastrous finish. It ultimately forced Iowa to reach the end zone in the final moments to win the game. If Pinegar had failed to convert, there’s a good chance the Hawkeyes make it into field goal range on a tired defense to force overtime.
Pinegar’s recent success will now change the complexity of the offense. With a reliable kicker back in the fold, Penn State can count on putting points on the board instead of pressuring the defense to keep the opponents pinned deep in its own territory, or demanding that an inconsistent offense convert crucial fourth down after crucial fourth down to have any hopes of scoring.
Pinegar has now been successful on his last six field goal attempts, and will look to continue that streak as Penn State has two crucial games against Michigan and Wisconsin. Points could certainly be at a premium on Saturday at the Big House, with a field goal possibly being the difference once again. As Pinegar turns the corner, he seems destined to go from liability to hero in the span of a topsy-turvey true freshman season.