Kicker Matt Coghlin is ready for his moment
Redshirt freshman kicker Matt Coghlin is still waiting for his time to shine.
With the Spartans having completed their first two games of the regular season, Coghlin has yet to attempt his first collegiate field goal.
But if the team continues to produce positive results on the field, the second-year player has no issue with just kicking extra points.
“Obviously for kickers, field goals are a big point getter, but as long as we’re winning, I’m good with just extra points,” he said.
He did admit, however, that not yet kicking a field goal this season feels strange.
“I didn’t really know what to expect (entering the season), but like I’ve been saying, as long as we’re winning, extra points are good enough. It’s been weird. I don’t think I went in high school two games without attempting a field goal.”
Coghlin is 9 of 9 on extra points this season, but he said he is always prepared to step in and kick a field goal.
“I wouldn’t say anxious, but I’m always ready for a field goal,” Coghlin said. “I’m just thinking in the back of my mind, ‘If they don’t get it here, I’m ready to go in and make the kick.’”
The first-year starter spent last season on the sidelines as a redshirt and watched Michael Geiger kick his way into MSU’s history books.
Coghlin said his range, depending on the wind, is around 50-55 yards right now, and he is completely comfortable kicking anything within that range.
Although he has not had the opportunity to kick a field goal this season, the team continually puts pressure on the 5-foot-9 placekicker at practice by playing crowd noise, having his teammates surround him and shout when he is attempting a field goal, and setting up live-game scenarios where Coghlin has to kick a field goal with minimal time left on the game clock.
“He's confident, and I think he's doing a great job right now, and every kick he's hit, he's hit with balls popping, and he's hitting good,” head coach Mark Dantonio said of Coghlin. “I guess we just have to wait our turn.”
While Coghlin awaits for his opportunity to kick a field goal, punter Jake Hartbarger is having an impactful season thus far.
Because of his strong performance this season, the junior from Waterville, Ohio, was nominated to the Ray Guy Award Watch List on Tuesday, which is presented annually to the nation’s top collegiate punter.
Hartbarger is averaging 43.8 yards per punt and has downed five punts inside the 20 this season.
“Coming out to practice, I treat every practice like it’s a game,” the third-year starter said. “So I try to treat every team punt rep like a game and just come in focused and ready to go.”
Hartbarger averaged 42.7 yards per punt in 2015 and 40.9 yards in 2016. Now, Hartbarger said he feels more confident this season in his playmaking ability, and it has showed.
“I think Jake is an excellent punter," Dantonio said. "To me, you have to become so confident. It's like going to the fair. You go to the fair, and you shoot (a three-pointer), or you are pitching coins or whatever you're doing. That's the approach you have to be able to take. It's my turn to go out and show people what I can do. I think that he's gotten to that point now where it's just, this is what I do. I think he enjoys going out there, and he can boom them.”
Hartbarger, who spent last summer working with former MSU punter Brandon Fields, believes he is at a prime point in his game.
“I feel like I’m at the top of my game, but there’s always stuff to get better,” he said. “I can still improve what I’m doing, but as of right now, I feel good when I’m out.”
While Hartbarger continues to impress and Coghlin remains perfect on extra-point attempts, the Spartans’ kickoff defense, however, is in need of enhancement.
Last weekend, the Spartans’ kickoff team allowed Western Michigan’s return man, Darius Phillips, to return a kickoff 100 yards for a score in MSU’s win over the Broncos.
The demoralizing performance last Saturday leads Dantonio to believe the special teams unit needs the most improvement entering next Saturday's game against Notre Dame.
“Statistically, offense/defense, I thought we were pretty dominant (against Western Michigan),” Dantonio said. “Where we need to be better is on special teams. We need to continue to work, and then also ball security, which I can't refute guys trying to make plays with effort.”