‘Automatic Andy’ missed, but he’ll find his redemption


Football Feature

As Arizona State players stormed the field in celebration after kicker Zane Gonzalez kicked the Sun Devils to a 19-16 victory, Utah kicker Andy Phillips was seen, head down, walking off the Sun Devil Stadium field.
“Automatic Andy” had missed.
Utah’s 19-16 overtime defeat played much like every other conference game the Utes have played this season. The defense bent but didn’t break, the offense was a heavy dose of Devontae Booker and little else, and more than half the points came from Phillips. It was a typical day in what has become a very untypical season.
There was just one glaring difference — Phillips missed.
After losing the overtime coin toss, Utah began the extra session with the ball. Two Booker runs and an incomplete Travis Wilson pass later, Phillips ran out for the field goal that just about everyone watching assumed would be good.
The Utes were late getting the ball snapped, and just as the clock turned to zero, head coach Kyle Whittingham called for a quick timeout. The officials granted the timeout, but the ball was still snapped, and Andy Phillips got what turned out to be a warm-up kick — he pushed it wide right.
With the warm-up miss still in his mind, Phillips overcompensated and pulled the kick just left of the upright, setting up for Gonzalez’s heroics.
“It was just a misjudgment on my part,” Phillips said. “I should have gone with my instinct, but it was just a misjudgment on my part.”
He hasn’t had many misjudgments this season.
Heading into the contest against Arizona State, Phillips had only missed two field goals this season. Both were from more than 40 yards out, and both were in swirling wind and rain.
Early on Saturday, Phillips was up to his normal automatic ways, drilling field goals of 50, 44 and 36 yards to help get Utah in overtime.
“He’s a heck of a kicker,” Whittingham said. “We aren’t even in the game without his 50-yarder [and his other two field goals]. He’s a heck of a weapon for us, and he’ll be back — he’s one of the best kickers in the country.”
Utah has needed Phillips maybe more than any other team has needed their kicker. He has bailed out stalled drives with long field goals, made sure points have shown up on the board when the offense can’t find the end zone and given teams extra possessions with his unique do-it-all on-side kick.
One — or even two — missed kicks doesn’t change his value.
It’s because of his abilities, along with those of punter Tom Hackett, that Utah coaches are comfortable playing the field position game and settling for field goals.
“If you can end every drive with a kick, it’s not bad,” Whittingham said. “Whether it be a punt, field goal or PAT. It’s not a bad situation.”
The Utes have used that mantra all season long. They have played to their strengths and not forced the issue, but sometimes that kick sails just wide.
Phillips is one of the country’s elite kickers, and the Utes will continue to count on his contributions if they plan on staying in contention for the Pac-12 South.
“Usually, those situations are something in which I thrive … ” Phillips said. “No one is harder on themselves than I am on myself.”
If this season has shown us anything, it’s that Phillips will get another chance to line up for a game-deciding field goal. When that time comes, look to “Automatic Andy” for redemption.
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