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Steps in the right direction: Arizona kicker Jaime Salazar knows what to fix

Jaime Salazar

Jaime Salazar made 14 of 15 field goal attempts in junior college last season.

The fault lies not just in Arizona kicker Jaime Salazar’s right foot. It’s both his feet. Or, more to the point, his steps.

Salazar missed a 46-yard field goal far to the right and also misfired on a PAT to the right in his Wildcats’ debut, causing a fresh overflow of angst about Arizona’s kicking game, which seems to be operating with two left feet.

The Wildcats were hoping Salazar, a junior college transfer, was the trustworthy answer to Alex Zendejas’ inconsistency issues. Salazar won the job in fall camp, but his misses Saturday prompted coach Mike Stoops to insert Zendejas for the final extra point of the game.

It all set off another round of “Here we go again.”

Salazar will be given another chance to quiet churning stomachs Thursday night at Oklahoma State, and he says it’s mostly a matter of just taking the right steps.

Picture him setting up for the kick. He takes his steps back, and then he should step directly to the side.

But instead of forming nice right angles during the game, he said he made a “figure 7.” The result was that his foot didn’t come through the kicking zone correctly … ergo, wide right.

“It got me a little off,” Salazar said.

So he knows mechanically what to fix and what to focus on in advance of Thursday night’s game at seventh-ranked Oklahoma State, but why did it happen in the first place?

He said the game-day environment at Arizona Stadium, which is all new to a kicker coming from Trinity Valley Community College in Texas, might have gotten into his head, set the heart beating faster and threw off his rhythm.

“I can’t let the environment, can’t the stadium, get in my way,” he said. “Can’t let those 50,000 people get in my way. Can’t let nothing get to me.”

It will only get worse Thursday in front of 60,000 hostile fans at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Okla.

“I just can’t let it get in the way,” he said talking about the charged atmosphere on Thursday. “If I do, it’s going to mess up my kick. I just have to go in, knowing I am going to make it no matter what. It’s not going to go left or right, it’s just going to go in.”

The first game, while troublesome, perhaps serve to ultimately eliminate any jitters — not only for Salazar, but for the whole place-kicking operation.

Let’s not forget that all the key pieces are new.

Brian Chacon is the new long-snapper, taking over for returning starter Chase Gorham, who is not with the team (at least for this season) because of personal reasons, according to Stoops. The new holder is first-year punter Kyle Dugandzic.

Chacon sent his first field-goal snap of the game sailing past Dugandzic’s right shoulder for a 26-yard loss, putting an unneeded extra thought in Salazar’s head before attempting the later kicks.

So, it’s not just Salazar. All three pieces need to be finely tuned.

Stoops is sticking with Salazar, at least for the start of Thursday’s game, and the coach agreed with the assessment of technical difficulties with Salazar in the opener.

“He missed two in pregame. It wasn’t a good start,” Stoops said. “Could have been jitters, too. You hope players don’t worry about that. You have to be able to do it as you do it in practice.”

More struggles from Salazar could mean another relief appearance from Zendejas. Salazar said he was fearful of losing his job after last game.

“He put Zendejas in for the last kick, and I was thinking, ‘Man, I have to keep this,’” Salazar said.

His second chance is coming up Thursday.

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