Keller started the season red hot, going a perfect 6-for-6 on field goals in KU’s first four games.
But in the Jayhawks’ (7-2, 4-2 Big 12) five games since, he has made just 50% of his field goals (3-for-6). He’s hitting a career-worst 75% of his field goal attempts this season.
Keller missed a 41-yard attempt in KU’s win over Iowa State, and coach Lance Leipold put in redshirt-sophomore kicker Owen Piepergerdes after. Piepergerdes missed a 50-yard attempt but later converted an extra point.
Coming into the season, Keller, a Texas State transfer, was a career 86% kicker in three playing seasons. He even made a 48-yard (or longer) field goal in three straight seasons. He was 92-for-93 on career extra points.
Naturally, expectations were high.
“The kicking game is starting to take shape. I feel our field-goal kicking is a lot more stable than we were last year — health-wise and in consistency,” Leipold said in August.
Leipold even talked about the idea of rotating kickers in August.
“With Owen, we’ve got a lefty as well. It’s kind of like a bullpen,” he said. “You kind of go to the righty or lefty. ... I like where we are at.”
Still, after KU’s victory over Missouri State to open the season, Leipold affirmed Keller was the starter.
Until now, potentially.
Last season, Piepergerdes replaced former Kansas kicker Jacob Borcila and played in Kansas’ last three games. He made all nine of his extra-point attempts and his only field goal attempt.
After Keller’s recent struggles, Leipold appears to have changed his mind. He reiterated a similar sentiment to his August statement on Monday.
“We are going to continue to use both (kickers); I think Owen has earned some opportunities,” Leipold said. “I think there’s things obviously with distance and leg strength on longer kicks. We’ll continue to look through that throughout the week to decide who will handle extra points and when we do a short and long field goal situation. I can see us using both.”
Leipold went into detail about Keller’s struggles.
“He’s battled a couple of things health-wise — nothing major, but there’s times we had to reduce his work and do some things,” Leipold said. “Sometimes you compensate, but he’s a very mature young man and he continues to work hard. Though we are all disappointed, we want to make sure we clean that up.
“We’ve talked about how much improvement we’ve made there (in kicking), and now all of a sudden we’ve hit a little bit of a rut.”