Unfortunately, many Badgers fans current memory of kicker Philip Welch is a missed 39-yard field goal from the hash mark against TCU in the Rose Bowl. Such short memories rarely serve well, though, and they certainly don’t in the case of Welch. It was certainly a terrible time to miss his first kick in the 30-39 yard range of the season. Things may be going even farther downhill for Welch now.
With Welch sidelined because of a strained right quadriceps, redshirt freshman Kyle French of Menomonee Falls has had a stellar preseason camp.
“If we played tomorrow Kyle French would be the starting field-goal kicker without a question,” UW coach Bret Bielema said after practice earlier this week. “If I’m Kyle, I wouldn’t lose that job. He is out here stroking it as nice as anybody.
Of course, there are a number of possible interpretations here. Personally, I prefer to think this is just Bielema lighting a fire under Philip Welch, because he is simply too good to sit on the sidelines and watch.
When we evaluate kickers, we often apply the lofty standards of the NFL kicker to the college kicker. We expect them to drill anything shorter than 45 yards, and any FG percentage below 80% is considered a liability — 24 of 35 NFL kickers hit 80% of their field goals last season.
It should be obvious that comparing the NCAA to the NFL is patently unfair, but just to put it in perspective, Welch’s 77.1% field goal percentage ranks second in school history (unfortunately, with the lack of good data for college football, I can’t seem to find the leader), as does his 97.9% extra point conversion rate. Welch has been charged with making a good number of difficult kicks as well, attempting 33 kicks from beyond 40 yards, seven of which have been from beyond 50.
Welch is 34-37 (91.8%) in these supposed gimmes from 39 yards or fewer. Most teams, it seems, don’t even have a kicker they’d trust from beyond 40 yards. Welch attempted 12 of these kicks in 2011, making eight, tying him for the Big Ten lead with Illinois’s Derek Dimke (8/11) and Penn State’s Collin Wagner (8/11). Only Northwestern attempted double-digit kicks from beyond 40 yards (only making five); no other Big Ten team attempted more than six.
With the excellence of the Badgers offense, there is an argument to be made that Bret Bielema should have gone for the first down in some of these cases. But the fact that they trusted Welch to make field goals from that distance speaks volumes about the strength of his kicking leg in a league without much in terms of golden feet.
Personally, I’ve been a big Philip Welch fan since he drilled a 57 yard field goal in 2009 — favorable conditions or not, that’s a phenomenal achievement for a college kicker. Kyle French, his potential replacement, only hit 68% of his field goals in high school. Perhaps he will be ready to take over soon, and maybe his camp performance really does mean he could be as good a kicker as Bielema is suggesting. But right now, Philip Welch is too good and too experienced to go away from.