The one position battle at USC that has gotten the least attention and may end up making the biggest difference on the field this season in terms of wins and losses is at placekicker. Senior walk-on Joe Houston won the job over senior punter Jacob Harfman, who will handle kickoffs, but it’s still a position of concern for the Trojans.
Houston, whose only in-game experience is kicking the final extra point in a 56-3 win over San Jose State last year, has been streaky at times during camp but has become more comfortable since winning the job a little over a week ago.
“He’s done a really good job,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “We met today to go back over all the numbers in all the drills in camp and he’s done a great job including from distance. The first perception is probably because of his size that he doesn’t have much range but he does and he’s really kicked the ball well. Some of his misses have not been distance issues. We’re really pleased with where he’s at right now especially after he started slow.”
Kiffin put some pressure on Houston at the end of Saturday’s scrimmage when he gathered the team together and announced if the 5-foot-6, 170-pound kicker, hit a 40-yard field goal the team would have the rest of the night off. If he missed it the team would have to go to meetings. Houston nailed the kick and his teammates jumped around him as if he had just made a game-winner.
“Coach decided to put me on the spot” Houston said. “There was no question I had to step up in that pressure situation. It’s a good feeling to give everyone the night off. It’s like any other kick. You have to make them.”
Houston made all five of his extra-point attempts Saturday and also hit a 33-yard field goal.
“I feel really comfortable right now,” Houston said. “The whole operation is smooth. My long snapper is Chris Pousson and my holder has been Mitch Mustain and Robbie Boyer and they’re all making it really easy for me. It’s a collective effort and everything is good right now.”
Kiffin still hasn’t decided if Mustain, the team’s backup quarterback, or Boyer, a reserve receiver and kick returner, will handle the duties but Houston says he’s equally comfortable with both. The question going into the season opener is if Kiffin is fully comfortable with Houston.
“I think so,” Kiffin said. “That’s something we’re going to have to learn. We’re going to learn a lot about our players when we go to real games with them. Those first couple games we’re going to learn a lot about who we are individually and who we are as a team because there’s a lot we don’t know yet. And [Houston] is a perfect example. How is he going to kick when it really counts?”