;I knew before coming here that there would be a lot of pressure with that position. But I like that feeling. I have experience with it in soccer. Those situations will make or break someone. —Matt Gay
LOS ANGELES — Reality caught up with Matt Gay, last Saturday, but by this week the Ute placekicker was back in his zone.
“I’m a confident guy,” he said.
Should Utah’s placekicker be confident? The stats still say yes. He leads the nation in field goals, field goals per game and total points. He is second in overall points per game and first in the Pac-12 in field-goal percentage, having made 16 of 17.
His only miss was a 50-yarder last Saturday against Stanford, after making 14 in a row.
The miss was significant because Utah lost by a field goal. Gay also came close to missing his first extra point. It took a serious soccer move to finally pull it off.
Now he’s in Southern California for Saturday’s game against the No. 13-ranked Trojans.
For a soccer player who didn’t play organized football until his senior year in high school, Gay has a load of self-assurance. It’s hard to blame him. Just last week he got put on scholarship. He is tied for the longest field goal in college football this year — 56 yards.
Yet he did it all incognito. He wasn’t on the fall camp depth chart, or in the print edition of the media guide. There was no mention of the Orem native who spent two years playing soccer at Utah Valley.
But after Chayden Johnston missed on a 45-yard try in the opener against North Dakota, the Utes enlisted Gay, who made field goals of 33, 32 and 49 yards.
Just like that, the race to replace “Automatic” Andy Phillips was over.
He made it look easy.
“I thought I could do it and be successful with it,” he modestly said.
But that was just the start. Gay made all four kicks against BYU, oblivious to the pressure, then four more against San Jose State, including the 56-yarder.
The first chink in the armor came last Saturday in the 23-20 loss to Stanford. He missed on a 50-yard attempt in the first half, pulling the kick left. He was knocked down on the play and arose slowly, hoping for a roughing call, but none came. He limped off, but returned later to land a pair of 30-yarders.
The play of the night for Gay, though, was a simple PAT that didn’t score high on presentation but was a killer on degree of difficulty. The snap was fumbled but quickly repositioned by holder Mitch Wishnowsky. By then, Gay’s timing was gone. He stopped, tap-danced, hitched his stroke (filed his nails, checked his email, etc.) and then sent a flat, crude kick that somehow cleared the crossbar.
His account goes thusly: “I think that it helped a little bit having a soccer background. In mid-swing we dropped the snap and I hesitated a little bit. I thought I might pick it up and run with it, but then Mitch got it down and was able to reset it. The ball is kind of falling over and I kind of scoop it up a little bit and get it up and over but it counted.”
Custom made for viral video.
So now college football is getting more real for Gay. He has kicked phenomenally this year, been roughed up a little, missed an attempt and danced with the Devil on a PAT attempt. Next he’ll be playing at venerable L.A. Coliseum.
“It will be interesting to see fans at USC,” he said. “But every game, you’ve to break it out, do your stuff. When the time comes, I’ll be ready and confident.
“I knew before coming here that there would be a lot of pressure with that position,” Gay continued. “But I like that feeling. I have experience with it in soccer. Those situations will make or break someone.”
Not a problem.
“If I focus on my next kick, I’ll be fine,” he said.
He’s confident of that.