The leg of Austin Jones went under the radar in the first two games of the season.
After the defense sealed a victory over Cincinnati and the offense dominated Penn State, the sophomore kicker was a quiet 4/4 on field goal attempts.
No one expected him to have the game in his hands against UMass. The Owls were heavily favored, but it came down to the final drive and a 32 yard field goal.
Already making two field goals on the day, Jones was iced by the Minuteman coach-and he drilled it. When he lined up again, he split the uprights one more time, giving Temple a 25-23 lead a road victory.
That crucial kick maintained Jones’ perfect season. He heads into tonight’s matchup 7/7 on field goals and 9/9 on extra points. His consistency is a stark improvement from a tumultuous 2014 season. Jones was a lackluster 13/22 on field goal attempts, a 59% conversion rate. That stat line could be reflective of Jones’ youth. He earned the starting job as a true freshman after only attempting 23 field goals all four years of high school.
Furthermore, Temple legend Brandon McManus, now an NFL kicker for the Denver Broncos, was only one year removed as an Owl. As a kicker and a punter, McManus was an All-American candidate and set a Temple record with 60 converted field goals over the course of his career. Filling those cleats is not an easy task.
Temple is averaging 28 points per game so far in 2015. If the Owls’ 59-0 thrashing of Delaware State is subtracted from the equation, the 2014 team averaged 18 points per game. The spike in Jones’ production has reflected on the overall offensive mindset, and in turn, performance. On Tuesday, as a result of Jones’ execution, Coach Matt Rhule explained, “we’ve been able to say, you know what, its 3rd and 10, lets run the ball, get in field goal range, kick the field goal, take the points, play defense.” That is huge for a team that prides itself being a defensive juggernaut.
The new dynamic also goes in the other direction. Players such as Jahad Thomas, Addonis Jennings and Robby Anderson have all emerged as consistent weapons for P.J. Walker. With more options, the Owls are able to move the ball more efficiently. Jones is no longer being planted on the 30-yard line after yet another stalled drive. Not only has this upped his confidence, but the team’s as well. In reference to his clincher over UMass, Rhule said “But to put that game in his hands at the end of game, we just felt like he was going to make it. He has that confidence…he’s grown up and he’s ready to make those kicks.”
With nine straight games looming on the Owls’ schedule, Jones is almost certain to be called upon again with the game on the line. However, when that time comes, the team is confident in his abilities. When asked what he thought his range was for that final boot against UMass, Jones bluntly stated, “Wherever the coaches felt comfortable.” Not only does he have the coaches’ confidence, but his own as well.