Schuckman: Smith thrives on pressure of big moments

Nebraska kicker Pat Smith, right, is congratulated by holder Sam Foltz after kicking a 42-yard field goal in overtime for a 23-20 victory over Penn State. (AP Photo)
Posted: Nov. 26, 2013 4:50 am Updated: Jan. 7, 2014 5:09 am

Roughly 24 hours after the signature moment of his college football career, Pat Smith was forced back to reality.

He had to prepare for a Monday morning exam.

"I don't know how I was able to study," Smith said.

Kicking a game-winning field goal in overtime to give Nebraska a needed Big Ten Conference road victory didn't afford him any special treatment.

"I was hoping my professor would help me out," Smith said with a sarcastic chuckle said. "But that's OK. I got through it."

Besides, pressure seems to be something the Quincy Notre Dame graduate thrives on.

Saturday night, playing the final road game of his career in one of college football's legendary venues -- Penn State's Happy Valley -- Smith trotted onto the field to attempt a 37-yard field goal that would break a 20-20 tie.

If only it could have been that simple.

First, Smith had to deal with light snow, 30-degree temperatures and a wind that seemed to be blowing in his face regardless of the direction he was kicking.

"It was swirling," said Smith, named the Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week. "It was nasty."

Then there was the fact Penn State kicker Sam Ficken missed a 37-yard field goal kicking into the same wind on the first possession of overtime.

"I feel for him," Smith said.

Unlike Ficken, Smith delivered on his 37-yard attempt, only to have it waved off because of a false start penalty.

"I think everyone was more nervous than me when we lined up to do it again," Smith said.

Not even the music playing over the stadium loudspeakers bothered him, even if it was Vanilla Ice's "Ice, Ice, Baby" and Queen's "Under Pressure."

"They were trying to get to me," Smith said.

That didn't work. Smith's 42-yard game-winning field goal was as pure as any kick he's made this season, splitting the uprights as close to dead center as he could be and silencing Happy Valley's full house.

"I'll remember that for the rest of my life," Smith said.

That's why he came to Nebraska.

A standout kicker, wide receiver and defensive back at QND, Smith originally walked on as a kicker at the University of Missouri before transferring to Western Illinois University. At WIU, he was one of the nation's most consistent kickers, albeit for a team that won just five games his last two seasons in Macomb.

So with one year of eligibility remaining and a coaching change happening at WIU, Smith decided to transfer to one of college football's most passionate climates.

It's worked out rather nicely.

"My expectations could never match the reality," Smith said. "This is so much more than I could have imagined."

Think of what he's been part of this season. There are road victories at Michigan and Penn State. There was a national ranking as high as No. 18. And the Huskers have eight victories heading into this week's home finale against Iowa, guranteeing them a bowl invitation.

The reality that comes with that is Smith's career is winding down.

"It's hard to believe it's coming to an end," Smith said. "When you start playing, it seems like it's going to last forever."

It certainly felt that way seven years ago when he kicked his first game-winning field goal, a 20-yarder in the second overtime at Peoria Stadium as QND outlasted Peoria Woodruff 51-48.

As much as he treasures that moment, Saturday's experience ecliped it.

It eclipes everything.

"This one really takes the cake," Smith said.




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