UCLA kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn seeks to put his best foot forward
Ka’imi Fairbairn has made eight of 12 field-goal attempts, but none longer than 35 yards.
He missed from 42 against Oregon State and from 44 against Colorado, prompting some extra attention this week.
Fairbairn lined up for a 45-yard attempt in practice Tuesday, with the entire UCLA team surrounding him and screaming and assistant coach Angus McClure tossing water in his direction.
Fairbairn made the kick.
“We have been working on his approach, where he places his foot,” said McClure, who coaches the kickers.
This is a delicate situation for the Bruins, who saw freshman kicker Kip Smith struggle after an injury last season.
Fairbairn has demonstrated a strong leg in practice. On longer kicks during games, he has had enough distance but the ball has hooked or sliced.
“I am working at keeping my eyes back,” Fairbairn said. “When the eyes pop up, your leg comes around and swings across. That’s when you get bad balls that miss left or miss right.”
Coach Jim Mora said a lot goes into his decision about whether to go for a field goal or a first down.
“It’s important that, in a game, I make the right decision as to when to go for it and when to put him out there to help him build his confidence,” Mora said.
That decision can be affected by whether Fairbairn missed his previous kick.
“I watch how he reacts to it,” Mora said. “Was there a rush? What hash was it on? Did he push it, did he pull it, did he really shank it, or was it a just a miss? All of that goes into the decision when you’re thinking about sticking him in there for a long one.”
Confidence was what Mora was concerned about Wednesday.
“I told him that I have a feeling deep down inside that when we need him to win a game he’s going to make a kick to win a game,” Mora said.
There is little doubt on whom the Bruins should keep an eye when they play California on Saturday.
Bears wide receiver Keenan Allen has 33 catches — 37% of the team’s receptions — for 388 yards and two touchdowns.
“Sometimes you’re preparing for a scheme and sometimes you’re preparing for a scheme and you’re preparing for a certain player within that scheme,” Mora said. “Keenan is a guy you better have an answer for.”
Others teams have felt that way too.
“Our defense puts me through that every week, the double teams, the Cover 2s, I learn how to get around it,” Allen said.
Zumwalt to play
Linebacker Jordan Zumwalt will play against California, Mora said.
Zumwalt sat out the Colorado game after suffering a deep gash over his left eye in a motor-scooter accident. He participated in team drills while wearing a non-contact red jersey on Wednesday.
“I don’t know how much Jordan will play, or if he’ll start,” Mora said. “The fact that he didn’t practice and was limited today, in my mind, means he’s going to be a little bit limited on Saturday.”
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