Week 9: Written by Ryan Nanni
When planning this series of newsletters, I wanted one edition to focus on an amazing accomplishment by the most regularly maligned position on the field: college kickers. There were several interesting candidates in the NCAA record book for the Football Bowl Subdivision. Cairo Santos holds the record for most field goals made in a season without a single miss, hitting on all 21 attempts for Tulane in 2012. Wyoming's Jerry DePoyster was the first kicker to hit three field goals of 50 yards or more in one game, a 1966 matchup against Utah. Martin Gramatica holds the record for longest field goal without using a kicking tee thanks to a 65-yard make against Northern Illinois in 1998. And Tony Franklin, Texas A&M's kicker from 1975 to 1978, is still the only kicker who's ever made two field goals from 60 yards or beyond in a single game.
The problem I kept running into was that none of these records mattered regarding game outcomes. Tulane went 2-10 in 2012, Wyoming beat Utah 40-7 in 1966, Gramatica's kick came while Kansas State was up by 49, and Franklin's long field goals in the 1976 A&M-Baylor game were part of a 24-0 shutout by the Aggies. Kicking doesn't magically get easier when the score isn't close, but I wanted to find something with drama and intrigue.
And I found it in Dale Klein.
On October 19, 1985, Dale broke the record for most field goals made in one game without a miss, hitting all seven of his tries. He also tied the record for most field goals made in a game (which we'll return to). Dale had this impressive outing as Nebraska's kicker, and the Huskers needed absolutely all of his efforts in a 28-20 win over Missouri.
Nebraska local media covered Dale pretty extensively after he set this record, and it's clear he was not someone people thought would accomplish this lofty task. He'd joined the team as a walk-on, only made six field goals (out of 13 tries) in his entire career coming into the game, and lost the starting kicking job twice in the first four weeks of the 1985 season.
The Huskers never asked Dale to attempt anything super long in this game – his longest kick was from 44 yards – but they called upon him often and almost exclusively in high-pressure situations. Six of these field goal attempts occurred while the game was either tied or one team led by less than a touchdown; Dale's final kick, with a 12-point lead and about four minutes to play, was the only exception.
Oh, and you remember that crappy Omniturf that Colorado's head coach used as an excuse to justify winning on a fifth-down play? Missouri had just installed that at Faurot Field a few months earlier, and multiple Nebraska players complained afterward that they'd been unable to keep their footing on it. (It may be easier for Nebraska to discuss that than contemplate how they'd just gone 3/15 passing for 63 yards.) That's the surface Dale had to plant and kick on seven times.
It was an impressive accomplishment that got Dale named Big Eight Offensive Player of the Week and moved Nebraska to 5-1 on the year. But it also prevented something the Nebraska papers didn't cover, partly because it was too early to know. Dale saved Tom Osborne from the worst loss he would ever suffer.
Across the course of his 25-year career, Osborne only lost 49 games. Of those, 31 came against teams who would finish the year with double-digit wins. 17 of the remainder finished the season at or above .500, and Osborne didn't get beat by a team that wound up with a losing season until 1992. That team was Iowa State, who completed the '92 season with a record of 4-7.
1985 Missouri went 1-10, and they needed a touchdown and two-point conversion with a minute left to beat Iowa State that year to avoid going winless for the first time since 1934. To some extent, this was an extremely unlucky Mizzou year; six of the ten losses were by a single score. As Tigers coach Woody Widenhofer noted after the loss to Nebraska, "If someone would have told me before the game that we'd have three touchdowns to their one, I would have felt like we would have won the game."
On the other hand, Missouri wasn't exactly facing a murderers row of a schedule. Sports Reference ranks their 1985 strength of schedule as 50th in the nation. The Tigers lost to 3-8 Northwestern, 4-7 Indiana, 4-7 Cal, and a 1-10 Kansas State team that fired their head coach after two games and gave an assistant athletic director the interim job. (Nebraska beat them 41-3.)
Mizzou carried a six-game losing streak against Nebraska, and they nearly snapped it in what could have been the upset of the year and the greatest upset in the modern history of the series. It definitely would have been the worst loss of Tom Osborne's career. But it wasn't any of those things because a twice-benched walk-on kicker had the most perfect day any FBS kicker's ever enjoyed.
(I said I'd get back to the part of this where Dale tied a record. A year earlier, Western Michigan kicker Mike Prindle had been the first kicker to hit seven field goals in a game. But he did it on nine attempts, missing from 54 and 44 yards, and the Broncos beat Marshall 42-7. Impressive, but again, I'm really here for the drama of field goal kicking.)