Zane Gonzalez, ASU football outclass UCLA in special teams on record-setting night

The Sun Devils let their fundamentals speak for themselves in a 23-20 win over the Bruins

An pregame marital proposal was a success, the ASU Athletics Hall of Fame inductees were honored at halftime, men’s basketball coach Bobby Hurley was in the house, four quarterbacks saw the field and the defenses combined to force seven turnovers.

Oh, and in case you missed it, senior kicker Zane Gonzalez set an NCAA career record for made field goals in ASU football’s 23-20 win over UCLA at Sun Devil Stadium Saturday night.

“That was a monumental accomplishment in the history of college football,” head coach Todd Graham said after admitting “I (usually) don’t like stuff like that – but how could you not?”

How could you not, indeed? The kid from Deer Park, Texas who Graham said couldn’t kick the ball past the 10-yard line as a freshman grew into the guy who “kicks every one of them out of the end zone.”

“Recruiting Zane – I remember going through that process in April – he wasn’t a high-profile guy or anything,” Graham said. “He’s worked his tail off.”

When the ASU athletic department started a page on its site devoted to logging his field goals, Sun Devil fans started to know that this whole record pursuit thing was getting serious for Gonzalez.

For a guy that nailed an overtime game winner in 2014 after going toe-to-toe – literally – with “Automatic Andy” Phillips, drilling four field goals thrilling victory over Utah, Saturday’s record-tying and record-setting kicks were no sweat.

Well, sort of.

“It wasn’t exactly the best kick,” Gonzalez said of his 89th career field goal, a 46-yarder with 12:28 to go in the fourth quarter to put the Sun Devils ahead for good. “I was pretty nervous about it. I was looking at it the whole way, and it was a perfect snap, perfect hold, and I saw it. I didn’t hit it the best I could have, but I was watching it the whole way in. And then Matt hit me, and I was like ‘oh crap, I guess it went in.’ It was awesome.”

The record may have been on his mind, but Gonzalez was there to do his job – give the Sun Devils (5-1, 2-1 Pac-12) a lead, and he didn’t let his focus stray from that objective.

Added Graham, “It was very fitting that that was the difference in the game.”

Gonzalez has said that sticking to his technique has enabled him to excel at his craft. He knows, just as the best golfers and baseball players do, that overcorrecting can be self-defeating.

The three field goals Gonzalez converted on against the Bruins (3-3, 1-2 Pac-12) were crucial in a game that was dead even at 3-3 at the half and saw its first touchdown with 8:29 to go in the third quarter. Not only because Gonzalez was perfect on the evening, but because his counterpart on the other sideline – freshman JJ Molson – missed twice.

Senior punter and holder Matt Haack and junior long snapper Mitch Fraboni flanked Gonzalez at the press conference, and praised the work ethic of their teammate on his big night.

“I’d say that he is really dedicated to the entire process and he takes pride in what he does,” Fraboni said. He makes sure that everything is perfect”.

Without the chemistry of this field goal unit, Gonzalez may not have been in this position.

“First off his work ethic. He goes out there every day,” Haack said. “Even in practice he’s not missing many kicks and even when he does he is kicking that kick over again and making it. He is very meticulous in his routines. He’s about as solid mentally as any kicker out there. I think that helps a bunch for him”.

Haack didn’t have a bad game himself – he pinned UCLA inside its 20-yard line three times, and his placements and hangtimes caused redshirt sophomore returner Adarius Pickett to muff two punts. As a result, the Bruins netted just six total punt return yards and redshirt senior returner Randall Goforth returned his only kickoff opportunity 15 yards.

Perhaps his demeanor won’t allow him to get caught up in the moment, but the stoic and unselfish Gonzalez knows that consistent excellence shouldn’t go unnoticed – even if he’d prefer to let his right leg do the talking. 

“Honestly, it hasn’t really set in yet,” Gonzalez said. “Anytime you can hold a national record, it speaks volumes.”


Reach the reporter at smodrich@asu.edu or follow @StefanJModrich on Twitter.

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