BLACKSBURG ——The worst part of all the early season struggles for Virginia Tech's Scott Demler is that he doesn't need anybody to tell him what's going on with his punting technique. He knows where it's all falling apart.
It's a matter of inches.
If he catches the ball off the snap two or three inches too high before dropping it onto his foot, the ball will hang up in the air like he wants, but it won't go far. If he catches the ball just right and drops it from the proper height, it'll fly high and with more outward trajectory — just the way it's supposed to go.
"It has been tough," said Demler, a junior who is averaging just 34.6 yards per punt — 77th in the nation. "It's more frustrating for me knowing what I'm doing wrong. I know exactly what I'm doing wrong."
For now, Tech coach Frank Beamer seems to be content to ride out Demler's issues. Beamer, who personally oversees the kickers and punters, said he's taking a look at other punting candidates like Michael Branthover, Danny Coale, Ethan Keyserling and even kickoff specialist Justin Myer, but Beamer is encouraged by parts of Demler's punting technique.
"(Demler's) strengths when he kicks the ball well, and I've seen him do it a lot, are he gets it about 40 yards with a lot of hang time," said Beamer, whose team travels Saturday to play at Marshall (1-2). "That's just perfect. There's going to be a lot of fair catches. To do that consistently, and get it in the direction we're planning on kicking and those things, that's where we've got to get to. I do believe we will. I met with him on Sunday and I told him, 'If anything, you care too much. You want to get this thing done.' "
Five of Demler's 13 punts have resulted in fair catches by returners. Tech is 104th among 120 Football Bowl Subdivision programs in net punting average (33.8 yards), but that's entirely due to Demler's poor yards per punt average, as opposed to return yards surrendered by Tech.
Only Louisiana State has given up fewer return yards than No. 13 Tech (minus-11 against LSU, minus-9 against Tech), which gives another sign of the kind of hang time Demler is getting.
"My punting specialty is hitting 40-yard, fair caught punts," Demler said. "That's what I do. If you've ever seen me punt, there will be times when I'll hit a (punt with 5.2 to 5.3 seconds of hang time). I don't see many other punters doing that."
The 1959 season was the last time Tech had its primary punter average less per punt over an entire season than what Demler is averaging thus far. In '59, Carroll Dale became the first player in Tech history to earn first team All-America honors. He did it as a wide receiver, but he also handled punting duties.
He didn't make anybody's All-America list for punting that season, averaging just 32.8 yards per punt.
The punter with the lowest per punt average in a full season during Beamer's 25 years as coach was in 2000, when Robert Peaslee averaged 35.3 yards per attempt. Tech punters averaged more than 40.2 yards per attempt in eight of nine seasons prior to the current season.
Demler also may be a victim of Tech's recent success in punting. In four of the last six seasons, Tech has featured a punter that was either first team All-Atlantic Coast Conference (Brent Bowden in 2009) or at least finished top three in the ACC in yards per punt average (Brian Saunders, second last season, 44 yards per punt; Bowden, first in '09, 43.8 yards per punt; Nic Schmitt, third in '05 and '06, 43.2 and 42.2 yards per punt, respectively).
"I think maturity and having done it a bunch of times really does make a difference," Beamer said. "(Demler) reminds me of Brian a little bit last year, because early Brian had some shaky kicks, but Brian had been around here a long time, too. Scott has been here a couple years. … He's very dedicated. He was dedicated all this summer. He definitely gets the most height on his punts when he hits it well. That's a good thing."