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January 8, 2011
Just for kicks: Byrum's leg could decide title
He doesn't isolate himself from teammates before a kick. He has no bizarre rituals before he trots onto the field for a kick. He has no weird routine he goes through before lining up for a kick.
"Wes is just one of the guys," Auburn wide receiver Darvin Adams said. "He's Wes. He's never off by himself away from us. He's one of us and a popular player."
Byrum also might end up being the most important player in Monday night's BCS title game against Oregon.
No BCS title game has come down to a last-second field goal to win it. The biggest field goal in BCS championship game history came in the 2003 game, when Miami kicker Todd Sievers booted a 40-yard field goal as time expired to force overtime in a game Miami eventually lost to Ohio State in double overtime.
The Auburn-Oregon game appears to be an even matchup. The nation continues to discuss and dissect Auburn's prolific offense, led by Heisman-winning quarterback Cam Newton. How can Oregon stop an attack that ranks No. 1 in the SEC and No. 7 in the nation (497.7 ypg)? An equal amount of time has been spent detailing the problems Auburn's defense may have trying to slow an Oregon attack that leads the nation in total offense (537.5 ypg) and scoring offense (49.3 ppg).
Despite all of those potential offensive pyrotechnics, this game could come down to Byrum's right toe.
"If it does, it would be an awesome experience for me," Byrum said. "It's something my holder and snapper and I work hard on every day."
His teammates have faith, too.
"If it does, we have faith in Wes," Auburn defensive end Nosa Eguae said. "He's a guy who makes the clutch kicks. I think as a team, we all have great confidence in him."
Byrum, a senior from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., has proven to be clutch in crunch time throughout his career, nailing five winning field goals, including two this season:
At Florida in 2007 (43 yards)
At Arkansas in 2007 (20)
vs. Northwestern in overtime in last season's Outback Bowl (21)
vs. Clemson in overtime in 2010 (39)
vs. Kentucky in 2010 (24)
"You really can't simulate [those situations]," said Byrum, who ranks fifth in SEC history with 355 career points. "In practice, we have all the guys rushing onto the field, people yelling at me, tugging on me. But in the game, in the gravity of the situation, you have to be able to perform your duty."
And to do that, Byrum clears his mind. He wants a totally blank slate, thinking about nothing as he takes his routine three steps back and two steps to the side, picks a spot between the uprights to aim at, puts his head down, takes a deep breath ... and kicks.
"I'm not thinking about anything," Byrum said. "I'm just going out there to kick the ball. If you start thinking of little details, you are thinking too much."
Despite the big kicks that won the Clemson and Kentucky games this season, Byrum feels his most important kick in 2010 came in the Georgia game. And it didn't even go between the uprights.
"The onside against Georgia [to open the second half] probably was the most influential thing I have done," he said.
Auburn recovered and went on to turn a 21-21 game into a 49-31 blowout.
Byrum has kept a relatively clear head this season, nailing 15-of-20 field-goal attempts, including 3-of-3 from 40-49 yards, with a long of 48 yards.
If he has a weak spot, it's his lack of a big leg. In his career, Byrum has attempted just two kicks of at least 50 yards, making one of them, a 52-yarder in 2008.
He also has learned to deal with adversity. Byrum struggled through a rough sophomore season in 2008, going just 11-of-19.
"I didn't do very well," he said. "I missed a good number of kicks. It's nice to be able to bounce back from something like that and do well. I didn't think I'd lose my job. We were struggling as a team [5-7 record]. It didn't seem like the ball was bouncing our way."
The ball certainly is bouncing Auburn's way now. And if it comes down to him lining up for a winning field goal, he's confident.
"Most of the time, I can tell right after I kicked it if it's good or not," Byrum said. "I have been doing this a while. Most of the time, I can tell just by the feel of the kick. Then I'll look up and see it. When I make contact, I know if it's good or not."