Kentucky punter Max Duffy, center, with former UK All-SEC punter Andy Smith and his son, Jackson, who has a UK scholarship offer.
By LARRY VAUGHT
Linebacker Jamin Davis doesn’t have to wait for games to see just how good Kentucky All-American punter Max Duffy is.
“Watching him operate even in practice is amazing,” said Davis. “It’s almost like he has a rocket attached to his leg.”
It’s easy to think that way. In the win over Mississippi State last week, Duffy averaged 44.9 yards per game on eight tries with a long of 57 yards. Three punts were downed inside the 20-yard line, including two inside the 5-yard line.
Linebacker Jordan Wright returned an interception for a touchdown after one of Duffy’s punts put State in a hole. He admitted watching Duffy do what he does provides motivation to the defense to try and get a turnover or safety.
“Or at least just stop them so it gives our offense a chance and shorter yardage to score,” Wright said.
Two of Duffy’s best plays won’t show up in the stats. A high snap went over his head and rolled to the end zone where he chased the football down and kicked it out of the end zone for a safety rather than give up a touchdown if State recovered. On the free kick, he boomed the ball 75 yards to the goal line with no roll.
Former UK all-SEC running back Anthony White watched that free kick and had trouble believing what he saw.
“But that’s just him. Several times I was thinking we might need to go for it on fourth down but he just keeps pinning them back time after time. He’s amazing,” White said.
White said even with UK having six interceptions and becoming the first team to stop coach Mike Leach’s offense from scoring in his 232 games as head coach he had no argument that Duffy was the player of the game for UK.
Neither did former UK all-SEC punter Andy Smith, who has worked several kicking camps with Duffy.
“He had a big game, one of the best I have ever seen from a punter. He boomed some kicks and then pinned them deep,” Smith said. “The punt after the safety was huge. He just hit it perfectly, which is something he usually does, and it was a huge momentum changer in the game.”
Coach Mark Stoops calls Duffy amazing and says not every player could have reacted to the high snap and did what Duffy did so quickly.
“The intelligence that he has to kick it out and to take the two (point safety) and then to come back and boom that punt (on the free kick) was really important. Really all night did he that, so he’s amazing,” Stoops said.
Game after game, Duffy just booms the ball. He doesn’t always show a lot of emotion on the field but Stoops says he is emotional.
“He does a nice job of … he’s very mature and he’s always under control, but it means a great deal to him, it really does. He takes great pride in what he has to do. If everybody in your organization took the pride in their job like he does, you would be really good,” Stoops said after Saturday’s win.
“He really cares. He cares about his teammates. He cares about bailing us out when we’re backed up and he loves that. I just saw him after the game and he made sure to come up to me and I gave him a good hug because he does, he takes pride in it, you could tell.
“And he gives me a wink and a nod like, ‘You know, I did my job, coach.’And I’m like, ‘Hell yeah, you did. So I’m really — I love Max, I really do.”
Who doesn’t? He’s great off the field and a pro on the field. The bigger the moment, the more he produces.
“Didn’t surprise me (on the free kick). It just really didn’t. I mean he just, when you really need it, that’s when guys like that step up and that’s why he’s a Ray Guy winner (as the nation’s top punter in 2019). That’s why he will be a finalist again this year,” Stoops said.
“That’s clutch. Punting it under pressure and doing his job under pressure, we appreciate him.”
Maybe the only one who thought he didn’t have a great game was Duffy.
“I was texting with him after the game and he is so humble. He said it was a below average game but that the free kick was big,” Smith said. “In his mind he never wants one returned and they did. But between him and the defense, they just controlled the game. It’s just he would never admit that.”