Caden Davis was the SEC Special Teams Player of the Week for his work against Tulane. (Courtesy Ole Miss Athletics)

NEW ORLEANS — Nearly every game we watch leaves us with some sort of lasting impression. So here’s what I will remember most about Ole Miss’s 37-20 victory over Tulane, other than the fact that the final score was absolutely no indication at all of the intense competition that took place on a steamy New Orleans afternoon:

Ole Miss kicker Caden Davis is what I will remember.

Rick Cleveland

A kicker, you say?

Yes, but what a kicker…

Davis, a senior transfer from Texas A&M, showed us once again what a marvelous weapon an extraordinary kicker can be. He was, most assuredly, the Rebels’ MVP.

Davis reminded this long-time observer of another college placekicker from half a century ago, the one named Ray Guy, who was known mainly as a punter but could kick a football from here to next week.

So can Davis. It wasn’t just that Davis made all three of his field goals, including the game-clinching 56-yarder. It wasn’t just that he made all four of his extra point kicks. And it wasn’t just that he consistently kicked off through the end zones on his kickoffs. No, it was more the majestic height on all his kicks that floored me. Granted, Tulane’s smallish Yulman Stadium isn’t the tallest around, but Davis’s kickoff soared high above the stadium.

We see line-drive kickoffs all the time that carry into — and sometimes through — the end zone, but rarely do we see kickoffs that soar seemingly into the clouds, above the stadium, and still go through the end zone. In Davis’ case, at least one kickoff sailed through the goal post uprights and several rows up into the end zone seating.

Let’s put it this say: If Bum Phillips were still around, he would have that football checked for helium.

Again, Guy was known primarily for his punting, but as a straight-on, toes-first kicker, he was remarkable. He, too, got amazing height on his kickoffs, which nearly always carried through the end zones. He once kicked a 61-yard field goal in a Utah snowstorm. I saw him hit 70-yard field goals in warmups.

Davis has that kind of range as well. He hit one from 67 yards Saturday in pregame warmups. He says he has hit from 76 yards in practice. The ball just sort of explodes off his foot.

Still, Lane Kiffin was faced with a perplexing decision with two minutes remaining in the game. Ole Miss led 27-20 and faced fourth and one at the Tulane 34. Kiffin sent in Davis to try a 51-yard field goal. But then Ole Miss was called for a false start, making it a 56-yard try. Kiffin left Davis in, even though a miss would have given Tulane excellent field position and plenty of time to try to tie or win the game.

As it was, Davis made the kick with room to spare and the game was essentially over. For his efforts, Davis was named the Southeastern Conference Special Teams Player of the Week.

Now then, you, as I, might have wondered: Who is this Caden Davis? Wasn’t Caden Costa, sensational as a freshman, supposed to return after a year’s absence to be the Rebels’ kicker? 

Well, Davis won the job, kicking in the preseason just as he did on Saturday. Davis couldn’t get on the field for field goals at A&M, kicking behind Randy Bond, who was excellent last year for the Aggies. Interestingly, Bond has missed two of five field goals through two games this year, while Davis has made all four of his kicks for the Rebels.

An equally good example of how important a kicker can be might have come the next day in New Orleans, when the Saints began their season with a a 16-15 victory over Tennessee in what might best be described as a field goal fiesta. Rookie Blake Grupe made all three of his field goal attempts and the game’s only extra point. Each of Grupe’s kicks were center-cut and validated the Saints’ decision to keep him and let go of seven-year veteran Will Lutz, who now kicks for ex-Saints coach Sean Payton.

While Grupe, who looks like a water boy who just dressed out, was hitting every kick for the Saints, Lutz was missing one of his two in the Broncos’ opener. The Saints won at least partly because of Grupe’s kicking. The Broncos lost at least partly because of Lutz’s kicking.

We are only two games into a marathon season, but already we have received a prime example of why the game is called FOOTball. Kicking is still a huge part of it.

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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.