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Cole Tracy Makes History in Fiesta Bowl

By Jim Johnson
SouthernPigskin.com
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Cole Tracy became the first player in NCAA history, across all divisions, to ever make 97 career field goals.

On the first day of 2019, LSU handed UCF its first loss since 2016. The 40-32 Fiesta Bowl victory gave the Tigers their tenth win of the season -- the first time they’ve hit that double digit mark under Ed Orgeron.

Suffice it to say, there were a lot of firsts happening in Glendale on 1/1.

Perhaps most impressive amongst those firsts, Cole Tracy became the first player in NCAA history, across all divisions, to ever make 97 career field goals. Finishing the season with 29, he also broke Josh Jasper’s single season school record.

The graduate transfer spent came to LSU this offseason from Assumption College, where he converted 68 of 84 attempts from 2015 to 2017. During his last year at Assumption, he led all of Division II in field goals made and field goal percentage, before ultimately earning the Fred Mitchell Award for his efforts.

Still, accomplished as he may have been, few could have foreseen how truly integral to LSU’s success he would prove to be.

If not for his contributions on New Years Day, the Tigers would have perhaps not beaten UCF. Of course, they also may not have even been in position to do so without his steady performance throughout the campaign.

He started his LSU tenure off with a bang, converting four of four against Miami in the opener. Two weeks later, he hit a walk-off game winner at Auburn. In October he banged through all five of his tries to help knock off Georgia, and dropped four more in on Mississippi State, the very next game.

All told, he’ll wrap up his illustrious college career with a 29/33 season, plus 40/40 on PATs, good for the 11th best field goal percentage in the country. He’ll also dinish in the national top ten for points scored, and he entered the postseason 11th in field goal value per kick, which basically measures one’s output relative to the expected output of an average college kicker. By that metric, his attempts, through the regular season, netted just over half a point more than the mean.

Place kicking isn’t the only part of LSU’s special teams that deserves some love, though. The unit, as a whole, entered the postseason ranked 2nd in S&P+.

Between Zach Von Rosenberg and Josh Growden, LSU is 8th in punt success rate. Von Rosenberg will end up in the national top ten with an average of 45.7 yards per punt, while Josh Growden dropped two more balls inside the 20-yard line in the Fiesta Bowl, bringing his total to 12 on just 16 attempts this year, with only three touchbacks. Coupled with an elite coverage team that ranks in the top 25 in yards per punt return allowed, it’s no wonder why LSU’s already stellar defense also had the pleasure of ranking in the top 25 in opposing starting field position.

Granted, freshman Avery Atkins, and his touchback rate above 90%, also had a thing or two to do with that. LSU only faced six kick returns the entire year.

Looking back at the 2018 LSU Tigers, the defense was the story of the year. Looking back at the 2019 Fiesta Bowl, Joe Burrow was probably the story of the day.

However, it’s important to appreciate the role that this oft-forgotten third phase of the game played in this program’s best season under Ed Orgeron, to date.

Cole Tracy has made history throughout his career and did so again in Glendale. His one year at LSU will live on in the record books, but with Von Rosenberg, Growden, and Atkins all set to return, don’t expect LSU’s special teams dominance to stop anytime soon.

Jim Johnson - Editor of Southern Pigskin, Producer of "Three & Out", and host of "Explosive Recruiting" on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. E-mail: jim@espncoastal.com Twitter: @JimJohnsonSP