Like their offensive and defensive counterparts, the Longhorns’ special teams had moments of brilliance in their season opener while leaving much to be desired.
In his first career start as defensive tackle, Chris Whaley blocked an extra point. In his first career game with Texas, Alex King booted all three of his punts more than 45 yards, one of which was downed inside the Wyoming Cowboys’ five-yard line.
Head coach Mack Brown called his team’s kickoff coverage “the best we’ve had” but also pointed out, like most observers, the glaring need for improvement from his kicker. With Justin Tucker kicking for the Ravens and Penn State transfer Anthony Fera out with a groin injury, true freshman Nick Jordan took over the place-kicking duties.
But the Coppell product missed two of his three field goal attempts, hitting a 31-yarder but missing a 46-yarder wide left in the second quarter and coming up short on a 44-yard try in the fourth, when he also had an extra point blocked after Texas’ final score of the night.
In one game, Jordan missed as many field goal attempts from 40 and 49 yards as Tucker did each of the last two years when he went 9-for-11 from that range. Hunter Lawrence hit 10 of 11 such kicks in 2009, including a 46-yarder as time expired against Nebraska in the Big 12 title game that sent the Longhorns to a national title game.
“I thought the first one was a really good kick,” Brown said. “It just went left. Then he makes a great kick but then on the last one, I thought it was a low snap. He grabbed it and tried to get it back, but he jerked it.”
It won’t matter against Wyoming, but the sooner the Longhorns can get a more reliable kicker on the field — such as Fera, who will also miss Saturday’s game against New Mexico — the better. For now, walk-on freshman Nick Rose, who handled the kickoff duties last week, will compete with Jordan for the place-kicking responsibilities.
“Since Anthony got hurt, they’ve been competing for it,” Brown said. “I’m really pleased with Nick Rose. I think he can be a weapon for us. We just need to figure out how to use him.”
Rose’s performance was also a bright spot on special teams for Texas. He sent three of seven kickoffs for touchbacks while Wyoming was stopped inside the 20-yard line on each of the other four, thanks to tackles by Sheroid Evans, Josh Turner, Dalton Santos and Tevin Jackson.
King’s punting (boots of 46, 58 and 56 yards) and Whaley blocking the extra point following an 82-yard touchdown pass by Brett Smith were also impressive special teams moments. Texas went on to score 24 unanswered points after Whaley’s big play.
“Obviously, the 11 guys that were on the field at that point were all just heartbroken,” defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said. “But to come back and block the ensuing point attempt, you could see a bunch of guys not feeling sorry for themselves and not really focusing on that play. But for us to block that PAT I think really speaks to the spirit that this team has.”
Thanks to guys like Whaley, King and Rose, all that stands between Texas and an elite special teams unit is a healthy Fera. Until then, the Longhorns will be sending an inexperienced and likely unreliable kicker onto the field.
Printed on Thursday, September 6th, 2012 as: Kicking must improve