A week removed from Howard's costly miss, Jace Christmann steps up for Gators

Graham Hall
Special to The Sun
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Florida place-kicker Jace Christmann boots a 47-yard field goal in the first half last Saturday against Tennessee at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

Florida walk-on kicker Chris Howard didn’t get an opportunity to make amends Saturday for his costly missed extra-point attempt in the Gators’ two-point loss to No. 1-ranked Alabama on Sept. 18. 

It wasn’t because the Gators struggled to find the end zone against SEC East rival Tennessee, but rather due to a change in the kicking rotation. 

Jace Christmann, the Mississippi State transfer and a member of the 2021 Lou Groza Award watchlist, trotted out on the field for UF’s first extra-point attempt against the Volunteers. 

It split the uprights, and Christmann remained in his role for the remainder of the contest. 

After the game, UF coach Dan Mullen said the decision was based on Christmann’s work in practice rather than as a response to Howard’s miss. 

“Just at practice, and I look at things and get the feel, I say, 'Hey, you're going to go do the place-kicking tonight' rolling into it each week,” Mullen said. “Those guys both do a great job at practice. It's been close.”

The Gators have used both Christmann and Howard on kickoffs through four games this season, with the two taking turns. Christmann kicked off four times against Florida Atlantic, followed it up with five kickoffs against South Florida, and hit a lone extra-point attempt in each contest. 

But after Christmann’s early success on the extra point, Mullen wasn’t going to risk messing up his mojo Saturday. 

As the first quarter waned with the score tied at 7-all, Emory Jones’ pass on 3rd-and-15 fell incomplete due to a miscommunication, setting up a lengthy 4th-and-15 from Tennessee’s 30-yard line. 

With an opportunity to take the lead back, Mullen again called on Christmann — only this time it was from 47 yards out. The Houston native drilled it right down the middle to give the Gators the lead once again, surely much to the relief of the Florida faithful growing slightly anxious over the early deadlock. 

It verified the initial decision to go back to Christmann, and it made it rather easy for Mullen to make a decision for the remainder of the contest when it came time to kick. 

“I think we've seen Chris has kicked off and Jace has kicked off, both have place-kicked before tonight, too, so we went with Jace this week. He came in, did a great job, kind of had the long field goal, had the hot hand,” Mullen said. “Made it pretty easy to stick with him."

However, Saturday’s contest is meaningless when it comes to who gets the nod in the future, starting with the road contest against the undefeated Kentucky Wildcats. 

Christmann can’t rest on his laurels, and Howard can’t accept losing his spot. 

Mullen doesn’t sound ready to bench either one. Like the team’s quarterback situation, two may be better than one. 

"I have great confidence in both our kickers, and watching them go,” Mullen said. “You watch them all week, watching them in pregame warmups and you kind of get a gut feel, and then you could go either way with it.”

Saturday

Who: No. 9 Florida (3-1, 1-1 SEC) vs. No. 23 Kentucky (4-0, 2-0)

When: 6 p.m. 

Where: Kroger Field, Lexington, Ky.

TV: ESPN

Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850

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