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Michigan Placekickers: A Love-Hate Story

Brendan Gibbons' blocked extra point on Saturday gave Michigan football fans a painful reminder that the kicking game is still a work in progress.

Brendan Gibbons was doing so well on Saturday. The Michigan placekicker had made his first two extra points and lined up for a third during the second quarter that would have tacked on a point to Michigan's 20-7 lead over Western Michigan.

The snap was good, the kick went up and ... THUD. Blocked. Here we go again.

Michigan did a lot of good things on Saturday. Fitzgerald Toussaint looked like a feature back, Brandon Herron could be a star in the making  and Denard Robinson was Denard Robinson. But the kicking game, well, it wasn't one of those good things.

Singling out one bad extra point from 34-10 win -- albeit, a controversial weather-shortened 34-10 win -- may seem like nit-picking, but I'm sure head coach Brady Hoke is doing the same thing right now. In fact, the entire special teams unit was pretty bad as a whole, especially the kick coverage team.

To say the kicking game at Michigan the past two years has been an adventure would be a bit of an understatement. Seth Broekhuizen led the way in 2010 with a mind numbing 3-for-9 performance. No that wasn't for one game, that was the whole season. Gibbons was 1-for-5.

It's hard to believe the Wolverines are just two years removed from 2009, when Jason Olesnavage hit on 11-of-15 attempts -- which included a long of 51 yards -- and 42-of-43 extra points.

51 yards? What I wouldn't give to see a 35-yarder now.

Thankfully there were no field goal attempts on Saturday from anyone wearing maize and blue. I'm not sure the 109,000 hearts at the Big House could have handled it. Michigan's kicking game has been so atrocious that last season former coach Rich Rodriguez would often opt to go for it on fourth down situations outside the 30-yard line rather than risk a field goal blowing up in his face. A new coach and a couple new guys on special teams have yielded the same results: this unit is still a work in progress.

And when I think about it more, I don't recall any of Gibbons' tries on Saturday looking particularly good, either. Most of the time it didn't look like the kick had much oomph behind it, leaving you to wonder, "Okay, is this one going to make it over?" Four times, they did. But that one time brought up a bunch of repressed memories.

It wasn't always like this. Actually, there was a time of Michigan football when the kicking game was one its strengths, not its weakness.

K.C. Lopata was probably the last pure kicker the Wolverines possessed, filling the kicking duties for two years from 2007-2008. He hit 21-of-27 attempts (77 percent) in two seasons, including a long of 50 yards.

Before Lopata there was the Garrett Rivas era. He made at least 17 field goals in each of his three seasons from 2004-2006 and was 55-for-70 (78 percent) for his career. Rivas didn't have a particularly strong leg -- his career long was 48 yards -- but he was clutch as ever, nailing dramatic game-winning field goals against Michigan State and Minnesota during his career.

You don't even have to make a lot of field goals at Michigan like Rivas and Lopata did to make yourself useful. All it takes is one.

Enter Philip Brabbs. Brabbs only made three field goals in his entire Michigan career. Die-hard enthusiasts can probably name the teams he made them against and the date.

But one sticks out: with Michigan trailing Washington with five seconds left in the 2002 season opener, Brabbs lined up for a potential game-winner. Michigan kickers that day couldn't have hit the Green Monster from 10 feet away. Brabbs himself was just 1-for-3. The general feeling was "this cannot end well."

Michigan lines up for the 45-yard try and just as ABC play-by-play man Brad Nessler prophetically proclaims "if he hits it, he's a hero in Michigan for years to come," Brabbs drills it like a 10-year NFL vet. Michigan wins 31-29 and Three-Career-Field-Goals Phillip Brabbs is a Michigan legend.

(Video evidence, the good stuff is at the 5:44 mark. Also, note the awesome oh-my-God-I-just-did-that celebration by Brabbs after).

After reliving all those great memories, it's going to be really hard to come back to the reality that is the current Michigan kicking game. There's still time for Gibbons and backup Matt Wile to turn this around; Gibbons is a sophomore and Wile is a freshman. They can get better, but after one game there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of progress from last year.

With Michigan's offense seemingly as potent as it was a year ago, they might not be needed for much more than extra points. But when there's that one tight game, a good kicker is needed, if not at least clutch one.

As Michigan fans know, all it takes is one field goal to make a legend.