AUSTIN, Texas — Time to sideline Sideshow Bert?
Texas Longhorns head coach Steve Sarkisian doesn’t believe so after junior place kicker Bert Auburn missed field-goal attempts of 50 yards wide left and 47 yards wide right in Saturday’s win over the Kansas Jayhawks, bringing the number of misses by Auburn to five this season, matching his total from a promising 2022 campaign during which Auburn replaced Cameron Dicker, the school leader in career field goals made and points by a kicker.
Asked about whether he’s considering making a change at the position, Sarkisian was blunt and concise during his Monday press conference.
Sarkisian had addressed the issues on the field-goal unit during his opening comments.
“Our operation on field goals has got to get better — snap, hold, kick,” Sarkisian said. “We’ve got to clean that up. Burt’s too good of a kicker to have missed a few here in the last couple of weeks, so we’ve got to get that cleaned up.”
Against Baylor, Auburn missed a 26-yard field goal in the fourth quarter when his attempt hit the right upright prior to the two misses in the Kansas game.
“Okay, the kick against Baylor, we have a high snap, we don’t protect the edge very well, he pushes it right off the upright,” Sarkisian said.
“The second one’s a 50-yarder, so percentages aren’t great from 50, but I think we can clean that up, and then the 47-yarder again a little bit of a high snap.”
The operational issues echo some of the struggles from early last season when walk-on deep snapper Zach Edwards replaced four-year starter Justin Mader and had enough issues with his snaps that then-freshman Lance St. Louis took over against Texas Tech to open conference play and retained the role throughout the season. Holding posed a problem during that stretch, too, with quarterback Hudson Card taking over for punter Isaac Pearson.
For special teams coordinator Jeff Banks, the easy personnel solutions aren’t available in the same way this year. St. Louis, a scholarship player, took over for a walk on to fix the deep-snapping issues. And backup holder Ian Ratliff, the backup punter, is a true freshman walk on up against the experience of fifth-year punter Ryan Sanborn, the team’s holder.
However, the Okahoma game could feature a different protector on the left edge, a role that injured junior tight end Ja’Tavion Sanders held in the Baylor game when the pressure came from that direction on Auburn’s miss.
As for Auburn’s long-range ability as a place kicker, it’s perhaps the biggest question mark surrounding his capabilities.
After all, he’s already proven cool under pressure, hitting his career-long field goal of 49 yards against Alabama in his second game as the starter last year, a go-ahead effort with 1:29 remaining. And in the conference opener against Texas Tech in a hostile environment in Lubbock, Auburn hit a 48-yard field goal as time expired to send the game into overtime.
What Auburn hasn’t done yet is hit a field goal from longer than 49 yards — Sarkisian didn’t call for any attempts from that range last season and Auburn has missed twice from 50 or more yards this season, including a missed 56-yarder in the season opener against Rice. That stands in some contrast to Dicker, who made four field goals of 50 or more yards with a career long of 57 yards against the Owls.
Sarkisian could opt to replace Auburn on longer kicks and has two options to do so in sophomore Will Stone, who handles kickoffs, and Sanborn, who made 8-of-10 field-goal attempts during his career at Stanford, including a 48-yarder in 2019. But Stone hasn’t even attempted an extra point in his short Longhorns career, much less a long field goal, and Sanborn has limited game reps at that position, too. So Sarkisian didn’t seem interested in exploring split roles at place kicker to alter Auburn’s current role.
“Again, I think he’s better, so I think us getting our battery, our operation — snap, hold, kick, protection — to ensure confidence in him and then to him trusting his training,” Sarkisian said. “He’s too good, he’s been doing it for two years for us now. It’s just getting him back into his comfort zone and then he started that today, he kicked the ball well today.”