East Lansing — Through two games this season, Matt Coghlin looked like he was well on his way to validating last season’s appearance on the All-Big Ten first team.
The junior kicker was a perfect 7-for-7 for Michigan State and showed no signs of a possible slump.
But success as a kicker can sometimes be fleeting, and much like a golfer with a hitch in their swing or a .300 hitter who suddenly can’t seem to make solid contact, when things start going in the wrong direction it can be hard to pull out of the dive.
That’s where Coghlin finds himself. After the perfect start to the season, Coghlin has gone 4-for-10 since and is now 11-for-17 on the season. It began with three misses in the loss to Arizona State and in last week’s loss to Ohio State, Coghlin pulled a 27-yarder wide left.
For head coach Mark Dantonio, the key now is rebuilding his kicker’s confidence.
“From my perspective, I need to give a guy confidence,” Dantonio said. “I've seen him make kicks. He's been — he's had a great summer camp. Probably missed two the whole camp. You know, I'm going to remain confident in him until somebody else takes over that position, but somebody else's got to take it over, too. That's another part of this, but I believe he can go in and make the kicks. That's what we're going to do.”
Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio on Tuesday lookd ahead to the Spartans traveling to take on Wisconsin. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
The Spartans have other kickers on the roster, but as Dantonio pointed out, it’s clear sophomore’s Cole Hahn and Tyler Hunt haven’t done enough in practice to warrant getting a shot in the game.
But Dantonio’s not exactly open to making a change anyway, pointing out that while Coghlin has had some issues with technique, he’s also dealt with pressure from opposing defenses, namely last week at Ohio State.
“I thought he maybe raised his head up a couple times, but this past week, I don't think his head came up,” Dantonio said. “Now, he got pressure. If you've got a guy who is 6-5, 265 or so in your face, might bother you a little bit.”
Getting things straightened out won’t all be on Dantonio.
Former NFL kicker Shayne Graham is in his second season on Michigan State’s staff as a special teams analyst and will no doubt provide vital insight from his 15-year professional career when guiding Coghlin.
“He's kicked at the highest level possible on numerous NFL teams and so you know, he's that guy that can sit and talk and be that, I think in-house psychologist to some degree for him,” Dantonio said. “I think he's been there. Any time you've got a guy with experience you can at least listen. It's like talking to Morton Andersen about kicking.
"It’s a whole different world in how you approach it when you talk to Morton about those things.”
There’s no doubt the conversations with Coghlin will include how to deal with pressure, something that will continue to mount now with each kick.
However, Dantonio emphasized it’s the same thing all players deal with and he’s confident Coghlin will rebound.
“There's enough pressure to go around for everybody,” Dantonio said. “Whether you're a corner making a play on a guy running down the field at a hundred miles an hour, full throttle. But if you make some cut back, the guys behind are going to tackle. There's a lot of different things going on out there.
“I've always asked our players to do the very best they can do and aggressively attack a situation, and if they do that. I'll believe in them and I'll go with them and I'll take the hit. So that's what we'll do."
Fletcher nears return
Dantonio said freshman defensive end Michael Fletcher could be ready to see the field in the next 2-3 weeks.
“He's just starting to work out now,” Dantonio said. “Maybe he gets back here in two weeks or three weeks or so. Gives you the added person there that's done some different things and the other guys are sort of younger and he's young. So we don't really know where he's at with the whole thing.”
Dantonio was talking about the depth at defensive end, which is a question for the Michigan State defense with junior Jacub Panasiuk getting banged up at Ohio State.
Fletcher came to Michigan State as the top-rated defensive end in the state out of Flint Carman-Ainsworth while checking as the No. 25 end in the nation according to 247sports. But he injured his foot early in preseason camp and has been out since.