Kicking an unfamiliar problem at No. 15 Texas
Texas coach Mack Brown has an unfamiliar problem: The Longhorns’ field-goal kicking is not good.
For years, good kicking at Texas was simply taken for granted. Scholarship players and walk-ons alike made Texas 9-0 in the Brown era when the Longhorns needed a field goal in the final two minutes to win, including a Rose Bowl victory, a Big 12 championship and bragging rights to end a century-old rivalry with Texas A&M.
But field goals are less than a 50-50 chance through the first five games this season, raising concerns that Texas kickers simply can’t be counted on in crunch time with No. 13 Oklahoma (4-1, 1-1 Big 12) next on the schedule. The problem was easy to mask when the No. 15 Longhorns (4-1, 1-1) started 4-0 start with three blowouts. Even a nail-biter at Oklahoma State ended with Texas scoring a late touchdown instead of having to kick.
But last week, Penn State transfer Anthony Fera missed a 41-yard attempt with about five minutes left that would have tied the game. Texas ended up losing to West Virginia, 48-45.
It was Fera’s first game after sitting out with a groin injury. He had made a 38-yarder in the third quarter that gave Texas a four-point lead. With that miss, Texas is just 4 of 9 on field goals with none longer than 40 yards.
”I think Anthony will be great,” Brown said Monday. ”We didn’t know until pregame that he would kick … The last one was not a bad kick, it was just off to the right.”
Texas kicks have gone right down the middle so many times for so many years that a miss can come as a shock.
”I just expect us to make them,” Brown said before the season started.
Justin Tucker booted Texas to a win over Texas A&M on the final play in that rivalry last season. He’s now with Baltimore Ravens and Texas spent the spring trying to find his replacement.
Freshman Nick Jordan was a high school all-American, but was untested and Texas felt relieved when Fera transferred in the summer after Penn State was hit with NCAA sanctions. Fera was 14 of 17 on field goals for Penn State last season.
But Fera showed up at Texas with a gimpy groin that forced him to sit out training camp and the first four games. Jordan won the job over fellow freshman Nick Rose in the meantime, but was just 3 of 7.
Fera dressed for the first time against West Virginia. Texas watched him closely in pregame warmups and decided he was ready.
”He was one of the best kickers in the country last year. He’s had a sore leg,” Brown said. ”I’m hoping he’ll be much stronger and more confident this week.”
When asked about the confidence of the kickers, quarterback David Ash said, ”I can’t kick so I’m not going to try to teach someone how.”
The problems could force Texas to adjust its play calling once the Longhorns cross midfield. If Texas isn’t confident in its kicking game, the Longhorns may decide to gamble by going for it on fourth down instead of trying a field goal, particularly in a close game.
Offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin said that’s for Brown to decide.
”All I hear from him is, `You’ve got four downs,”’ Harsin said. ”I’m always in the mindset that I’m going to go for it until I hear different.”