Many of the story lines in Gophers training camp centered on the quarterback derby, injuries along the offensive line and the overall inexperience of coach P.J. Fleck’s first Minnesota team.
But one facet that Fleck and his staff can feel good about is the kicking game, led by steady and accurate junior Emmit Carpenter.
Carpenter, the reigning Big Ten kicker of the year, gives the Gophers a consistent threat to score once they penetrate an opponent’s 35-yard line. Last year when he first got the job, Carpenter made 22 of 24 field goal attempts and all 43 of his point-after attempts. His 109 points tied the Gophers’ single-season scoring record by a kicker (Dan Nystrom in 1999) and was five behind the overall record set by running back Gary Russell in 2005.
“I definitely want to keep building off the season we had last year as a whole team and as a field goal unit,” the Green Bay, Wis., native said. “We have a lot of really good guys on the field goal unit coming back, whether it be on the offensive line or in the snapper or holder position. Those guys are fantastic and very good at what they do.”
But before Carpenter could work toward an encore of his near-perfect 2016, he needed to go through the high-tempo, high-pressure training camp orchestrated by Fleck.
The new Gophers coach tests his field goal unit with last-second, make-it-or-the-team-runs drills, and he will use any means necessary to try to distract a kicker, holder or long snapper in action. A well-placed squirt, or dump, of a water bottle is Fleck’s go-to method.
“Coach Fleck likes to have fun with me,” Carpenter said. “… There’s been times were he’s ran out of water, so he just resorts to throwing [the bottle] at us. He does a good job of just making us focus on the little things, the details in the process.”
Carpenter says the practice situations will pay off.
“When it comes to a game, all you gotta do is take your approach and kick the ball, and you don’t have to worry about ice being dumped down your neck,” he said. “Things just seem a little bit slower, a little easier.”
Judging by last season, Carpenter hasn’t had an issue with being rattled. He made his first nine field goal attempts of the season, had one miss each against Maryland and Rutgers, and then finished the season with 12 consecutive makes. He was 8-for-8 from 40 to 49 yards and 2-for-2 from 50 or longer. He also had 38 touchbacks on 78 kickoffs.
Carpenter is quick to credit his holder, Jacob Herbers, and long snapper, Payton Jordahl, along with the line.
“All those together just make my job a little easier,” he said.
Carpenter and his seven teammates among the Gophers’ specialists are making an impact off the field, too. Last week, they organized a Can O’ Corn food drive in conjunction with a practice that was open to the public. That resulted in seven bins of nonperishable food items and a pallet of bottled water being donated to the Heart for Hunger campaign.
“Out of nowhere, we just started referencing an old baseball saying, ‘can o’ corn,’ ” Carpenter said, recalling how the project started. “Whether it be a PAT, an easy kick or a good punt, someone would say, ‘can o’ corn.’ And one day we were sitting in the meeting room, and someone said, ‘Let’s do a food drive. Let’s put this saying to use.’
“… It ended up being a big success. So we were happy to have the opportunity to have some impact on people and have fun doing it.”
As usual, Carpenter connected.