SOUTH BEND — One of the biggest question marks coming into the 2019 season for Notre Dame football was the kicker situation. The Fighting Irish were tasked with replacing Justin Yoon, who graduated as the program’s all-time leading scorer with 364 points.
Well, that question has been answered by Jonathan Doerer.
The junior from Charlotte, N.C., had a career night Saturday against USC, going 3-for-3 on field goal attempts and 2-for-2 on extra points in a 30-27 victory for No. 8 Notre Dame over its rival.
They weren’t short field goals from Doerer, either. He made them from 45, 52 and 43 yards, respectively. It was made more impressive by the weather conditions in South Bend, with temperatures in the mid-40s and wind blowing 10-to-15 mph throughout the contest.
“He went out there and just knew he needed to put up points for us,” Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book said. “When we weren’t able to score a touchdown, we relied on him to do that. … I talked to him after the game. I just said, ‘Really proud of you, man, good job. You helped us win this game.’ I’ve seen a lot of growth in him.”
Doerer improved to 6-for-7 on field goals for 2019, with his only miss coming on a 47-yard attempt against Virginia. Doerer is a perfect 27-for-27 on extra points as well.
The performance of Doerer is surprising in the context of what happened in the 2018 season. Doerer was Notre Dame’s kickoff specialist for most of the season, but he struggled in that department. After averaging 61.2 yards a kickoff his freshman year of 2017, Doerer saw his average drop to 59.8 yards in 2018. He was eventually benched in favor of Yoon.
Doerer only had one game where he kicked field goals and extra points last year, a 44-22 victory over Navy. With Yoon injured, Doerer was thrust into the starting kicker roles. After he missed his first extra point attempt, the then-sophomore made his remaining five and a 30-yard field goal. Still, Doerer had a subpar 2018 after a strong 2017 campaign.
“He wasn’t there,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “Listen, if you were here last year, I mean, we had some interesting conversations on the sideline.”
Doerer didn’t have a great spring season, raising concerns over if he was capable of handling all of the kicking duties. Something switched in Doerer’s head, though, according to Kelly. Doerer started attacking practice differently, and it’s now showing itself on the football field.
“We saw the development because he chose to address it,” Kelly said. “His mindset is ‘I’ve got to do better. I’m a better kicker than this. I’m going to find a way to make sure that I am repeating this, and I’m going to be the kind of kicker I think I should be.’ And all the credit goes to him.”
Doerer’s teammates notice the change in practice as well.
“You can see his confidence growing throughout the year,” junior tight end Cole Kmet said. “Each practice, he kind of works on stuff. He did great (against USC). He was awesome.”
“Jon is good, man. He knows how to kick that ball. I know that,” redshirt junior running back Tony Jones added. “Jon has the right approach. He does it all the time. It takes long, but when he does it, he’s going to hit everything.”
For his performance against the Trojans, Doerer was awarded the game ball. Not many people would’ve seen that coming six weeks ago.
“We thought he had an exceptional leg, and he was a talent,” Kelly said. “But there’s more to it, right? Poor analogy, but he could drive the golf ball 350 yards, but he’d be in the trees half the time. So, it was about how do we get this young man to really hone in on this exceptional skill that he has?
“And, you know, he’s done an incredible job of really building a repetition in his swing — his leg swing — that he is so confident now in what he does that he’s unflappable. He can go into any situation and he trusts what he is doing. When you go on that first tee and you trust your swing, you feel like you can hit it no matter what the situation is. He’s in a similar kind of state now.”