It started with an extra point, but no one seemed to notice it then. The second time out there, recognition started to seep in as a 30-yard field goal went straight through the middle of the uprights.
Oh, seemed to be the pleasantly surprised response of the crowd after that first field goal in the second quarter on Saturday.
In the third quarter when a 45-yard field goal sailed high, straight and right down the middle to give Mississippi State a 27-7 lead over LSU, the reaction was an all-caps, OH.
By the time the same guy hit his third field goal in as many attempts and fourth extra point in four tries, the same question was being asked by 60,000 people throughout the stadium: Who is this guy?
Jace Christmann – freshman, field goal kicker, knight in dri-fit armor.
After struggles in recent years to find a consistent field goal kicker, Christmann’s appearance on Saturday in Davis Wade Stadium felt to State fans more like Sir Galahad riding in on his mighty steed than the reality of a 195-pound redshirt freshman jogging onto the field.
In a game as complicated and detailed as football, with coaches putting their multi-million dollar contracts on the line every week, surely the development of a kicker like Christmann and the decision to send him out for his first-ever collegiate field goal attempt must have been a long, detailed and arduous process.
“Percentage–wise, he put the most through the uprights in practice last week,” head coach Dan Mullen said before laughing at the simplicity of the move. “At the end of the week, you use simple math … We went with him and he did a good job in the game.”
“I guess I had a good week,” Christmann confidently added.
Maybe things aren’t always as hard as they seem. In fact, things getting easier is the crux of this story. Starting with Christmann himself, that was the biggest improvement he made in the offseason. After struggling all of last year and even this spring, Christmann made some adjustments this fall.
“I think my biggest issue all of last year and in the spring is that I was going into the ball way too fast,” he said, “so I slowed down and really figured out I should trust my leg. That was the biggest thing for me.”
Don’t think so much, basically. And it’s helped a great deal. That was the aim – other than the uprights – on Saturday, as well. Holder and punter Logan Cooke talked to Christmann before each quick, reminding him to stay calm and affirming that he’s got it in the bag. He just has to do what he always does.
“Just know that this is what I do all day, every day,” Christmann said. “I don’t want to say it got easier, but I definitely felt more comfortable. I got into a rhythm and it just got easier from there.”
The other thing that gets easier, in a somewhat odd but not altogether surprising twist, is running an offense. Certainly, the primary objective of every possession is to get the football into the endzone while someone on your team is holding on to it. Touchdowns are the big prize, but like Galahad’s search for the Holy Grail proved, good things aren’t always the prettiest things. For MSU’s offense, the realization that A) three points as opposed to seven is possible, is followed by decreased levels of stress because B) three points is good, too.
In an odd way, having a reliable field goal kicker opens up the offense, because the pressure associated with the previous option of either seven points or none is now gone. Mullen, Nick Fitzgerald and the rest of the offense don’t have to force anything when they know they have a reliable field goal kicker, meaning they can run the offense and call the plays they’re most comfortable with.
“I definitely feel a lot more comfortable about, hey, if we don’t put it in the endzone, we’ll still at least get three points,” Fitzgerald, MSU’s junior quarterback, explained. “We have plenty of great field goal kickers. Jace played lights out, kicked great, couldn’t ask more from him. He’s a good guy. He works his butt off. I’m happy for him. He definitely gives us a little confidence that if we’re not putting into the endzone, then get it close, get three points and we’ll worry about it next drive.”
All this, just from a little practice.
“I mean, all I can do is kind of go off practice,” Mullen reiterated Saturday night, “and he was the best in practice this week, so we went with him. And you know what? He took advantage of his opportunity and did a good job.”