UConn's Puyol's heart goes out to Michigan punter
Puyol loved the staredowns between batters when he was a pitcher for various baseball teams he was a member of growing up and few things excite him more than being called upon in a clutch situation.
Need any proof? Well, here's Puyol's take on kicking away from the friendly confines of Rentschler Field.
"I think the away games are the most fun, they are yelling at you and they want you to miss so when you make it and there is a hush from the crowd," Puyol said. I think that is the most exciting part of away games."
Being placed in pressure-packed situations, however, can have a down side.
The aftermath of the Michigan State/Michigan game is something no college player should have to
Basically, short of a punt return being brought for a touchdown, the Michigan squad was guaranteed victory if punter Blake O'Neill merely got the punt off in the final 10 seconds. What happened has been played over and over again. O'Neill struggled to handle the snap and rather than falling on the ball and forcing the Spartans to have to throw the ball to the end zone, he attempted to make a play resulting in the ball landing in the hands of Michigan State's Jalen Watts-Jackson who ran the final 38 yards for a touchdown to give the Spartans a stunning win. O'Neill ended up with the most talked about ball-handling miscue by a kicking specialist since Garo Yepremian handed the Washington Redskins a touchdown in Super Bowl VII.
A vocal minority took to social media to express their disgust and it was not pretty. Some Michigan fans went as far as wishing that O'Neill life would come to an end or as it was put by one individual "jump into a pool of spikes and cyanide."
A situation like that struck close to Puyol's heart. There was criticism when a couple of his extra points were blocked earlier in the season but nothing close to what O'Neill had to endure.
"My heart goes out to that dude," Puyol said. "I saw the thing on SportsCenter, I don't know the guy personally but one of the anchors was saying that he is from Australia, he came into the states, got an undergrad (degree), got a Masters and came to Michigan and got another Masters. People can say whatever they want but a guy like that, at the end of the day he has accomplished so much that it helps him and won't define his life, he'll be able to do whatever he wants to do in life."
What would Puyol do if he made a mistake that drew a frighteningly hostile reaction from the UConn fan base?
"It would be hard but I am blessed to have a great foundation, just my faith, my family, all my friends, all my teammates to have my back," Puyol said. "The beauty of being here is that the team has your back and whatever people on the outside say, it doesn't matter."
Puyol's competitive fire has never been more evident than during this season.
UConn brought in Canadian Michael Tarbutt, who starred for undefeated Canisius High School in Buffalo as a senior highlighted by his 60-yard field goal in the state final. Tarbutt has taken over the kickoff duties and is listed as the long-distance field goal kicker although he has not been utilized in that capacity yet this year. Rather than be offended by the recruitment and arrival of Tarbutt, he welcomed him the same way that Chad Christen supported Puyol a couple years back.
"Coach (Diaco) always talks about competitive greatness, being good when your best is needed and so I feel like Mike came in and it has been fun because being a young guy when Chad was here, it has flipped and it is cool for me and him," Puyol said. "We hang out to really connect and say I can help him out here and he helps me out, it has been a good time."
Diaco said that if a long-distance field goal (likely in the 50-yard range) were needed to win a game that Tarbutt could get the call but otherwise Puyol would be the one taking the kicks or the Huskies would opt to go for it on fourth down.
"I feel comfortable," Puyol said. "In the beginning of the season I wouldn't have said that but I am really just being smooth right now and any place 50 and in, I feel all right."
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