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Texas punting will likely be inconsistent as Ryan Bujcevski adjusts to game situations

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It’s probably going to be 2015 all over again.

Ryan Bucjevski
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Prepare for some shanks.

After one game, the Ryan Bujcevski Experience resembles the early Michael Dickson Experience in 2015, the first year the former Texas Longhorns standout punted in game situations after emerging from ProKick Australia.

In a word — inconsistent.

As a freshman, Dickson averaged 41.3 yards per punt before going on to average more than 47 yards per punt in each of his final two seasons. Last year, Dickson won the Ray Guy Award as the nation’s top punter before the Seattle Seahawks traded up to select him in the fifth round of the 2018 NFL Draft. Now Dickson is quickly taking the NFL by storm, including prompting the release of longtime punter Jon Ryan.

To expect that Bujcevski’s background and blood lines — he is Dickson’s cousin and a former Australian Rules football player who trained at ProKick Australia — will eventually allow him to perform at Dickson’s level isn’t fair to Bujcevski.

However, the rampant success of former Australian Rules football players who trained at Pro Kick Australia before coming to America provides some critical perspective on the player Bujcevski could eventually become.

Last week, head coach Tom Herman expressed his confidence in how far Bujcevski has come since he was an unexpected addition to the 2018 recruiting class last December.

“We feel good,” Herman said. “He’s continued to get better and better. He has gotten much more comfortable with bodies in his face, and I think he’ll be just fine. Is it going to be, you know, 49-yard average fine with half your punts down inside the 10? Probably not. But it will be good enough to win.”

The biggest adjustment for Bujcevski is learning how to punt under pressure — in front of tens of thousands of fans with opponents flying at him.

Against Maryland on Saturday, the results were decidedly mixed.

Bujcevski’s first punt showcased his apparent upside — it was a booming 56-yard effort that featured the trademark leg strength Dickson flashed during his three seasons in Austin.

The second punt featured heavy pressure on Bujcevski, as a Texas player released downfield instead of blocking an edge player who nearly blocked the kick. Bujcevski got it off and drove it 46 yards before it sailed out of bounds, but highlighted an issue that the freshman ended up having in the game — pinning the ball along the sideline to reduce the possibility of a long return without getting the angle wrong and sending it out of bounds too early.

Rushed by more pressure on his fourth attempt, Bujcevski drew a running into the kicker penalty on a 23-yard effort before re-kicking for a 35-yard punt that seemed to indicate he was a little bit rattled.

Pinned on the goal line, Bujcevski attempted a punt from the back of the Texas end zone, sending it off the side of his foot and only 15 yards past the line of scrimmage and out of bounds.

Maryland used a trick play to throw a touchdown on the next play, seven points clearly produced by Bujcevski failing to come close to flipping the field in a critical situation.

Showing some competitive ability on his next attempt provided some important insight into how Bujcevski responds to pressure and to failure — he pinned the Terrapins at the 3-yard line with an excellent 41-yard punt as the Longhorns were mounting a second-quarter comeback.

The punt helped produce a safety and a short field for the Texas offense, which scored on a five-play, 50-yard drive that brought the Horns to within two points at halftime.

In all, the defense stepped up to save Bujcevski from another poor punt in the third quarter as he finished with nine punts for 337 yards, an average of 37.7 yards per attempt, including two inside the 20-yard line.

Last season, Texas ranked No. 4 in punt efficiency, according to FEI, as well as No. 12 in offensive field position.

Dickson’s ability to flip the field helped protect the defense from offensive struggles, especially the three and outs that were so habitual in 2017.

This season, it won’t be as easy for the punter to protect the offense from not moving the ball or the defense from allowing the opposing to move the ball — during Maryland game week, defensive coordinator Todd Orlando talked about how his group will have to produce more turnovers and more negative plays to help make up for the inconsistency that Bujcevski showed on Saturday.

The offense can’t afford to have four three and outs early in games.

The extent to which the defense and offense can successfully accomplish those tasks, as well as the extent to which Bujcevski can grow into his role without too many mistakes in critical moments, could be the difference in a game or two this season.

After all, the lack of consistency from Bujcevski and the offense and the defense already diminished the team’s margin for error in the season opener.