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Texas must address kicking woes to take next step in win column

The kicking game struggled in 2017 and the staff’s trust faltered as a result. That has to change in 2018.

Kansas State v Texas Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

The Texas Longhorns kicking woes have been a considerable cause for concern throughout the past several seasons, so much so that the Longhorns have seen numerous additions to the loss column as a result of such struggles.

The 2017 campaign was no exception.

Following Trent Domingue’s 68.2-percent effort in 2016, Tom Herman added former NJCAA All-American Joshua Rowland in hopes of addressing one of the areas that plagued Charlie Strong’s tenure at Texas, but to no avail. Rowland missed the first three attempts of the season — one of which was blocked against Maryland — and by the end of Herman’s debut season, his starting kicker converted just 61.1 percent (11-18) of his field goal attempts, which ranked No. 97 nationally and dead last in the Big 12.

Of course, kicking is far from the only issue Texas must come face-to-face with this offseason, but given how many games the ‘Horns fell just short in last season, whether or not Herman can trust his kicker in 2018 may very well be the difference in Texas taking the next step.

That proved to be the case in 2017.

Although it’s easy to reflect and simply say Texas would have certainly won a certain number of games had certain things gone right, it’s all hypothetical. That said, hypothetically, Texas could have won as many as three more games with more consistent kicking that the staff trusted — Maryland, USC, and Oklahoma.

Rowland’s first attempt of the season, a 42-yarder against Maryland, sailed left. On the following series, a stalled drive led to a 44-yard field goal try, but this time around, Rowland’s attempt was blocked and returned for a touchdown.

Not surprisingly after the two failed field goal attempts, rather than stretching Rowland’s range a bit and attempting a field goal from Maryland’s 36-yard line, Texas went for it on 4th and 2 and failed. On the next series — the opening drive of the second half with Texas trailing 30-14 — Herman kept the offense on the field for 4th and goal from the 5-yard line.

That attempt failed, as well.

In an ideal situation with a high-level kicker it could trust, Texas could have very well added 12 points by way of field goals. Instead, two missed attempts and two fourth-down attempts within or on the edge of field goal range failed, and when the final seconds ticked off the clock, Texas opened the Herman era with a 10-point loss.

The following week against San Jose State, Rowland missed his only field goal attempt from 43 yards, so unsurprisingly, when Texas was in position to put points on the board first on the road against USC, Herman didn’t rely upon a kicker who had missed his first three attempts of the season.

Rather, Sam Ehlinger and the offense remained on the field for a 4th and 2 from USC’s 20 on their first drive with an opportunity to strike first. Of course, the offense didn’t gain the two yards required. Again, this is all hypothetical, but in a game that required Trojans kicker Chase McGrath to sink a 31-yard attempt at the end of regulation to force overtime, Texas failing to cash in on the three points it left on the field on its opening drive proved to be the difference in a win and a loss

Forth forward one month to the Red River Showdown and fresh off of a double-overtime win over Kansas State in which Rowland also missed two field-goal attempts from 27 yards and 45 yards, Texas’ lack of trust in its kicker was evident.

After the Longhorns dug themselves in a 20-0 hole in the first half, Rowland did nail a 34-yard attempt as time expired to cut the deficit to 20-10 entering halftime, but in crunch time, Rowland remained on the sidelines.

Having climbed back into the game, trailing just 23-17 with 11:33 remaining after a failed 3rd and 8 heave at the end zone, Texas went for it on 4th and 8 from Oklahoma’s 27. Per usual, the attempt failed and it proved costly once again. After exchanging leads with the Sooners, Texas trailed 29-24 in the final minutes in what could have been a game-winning drive. Instead, after pushing into Oklahoma territory, Texas found itself with a 4th and 13 from the Sooners 34-yard line with 2:04 left to play.

Had Texas attempted and made a field goal at the front end of the fourth quarter, that 4th and 13 could have presented the opportunity to capture a 30-29 lead and ask a defense that had dominated throughout much of the second half to hold just once more.

Of course, that didn’t happen, and because Texas could trust its kicking game, the Longhorns left six points on the field in what became a five-point loss.

When it was all said and done, Texas hypothetically left as many as 57 points on the field between missed field-goal attempts and failed fourth-down attempts within or on the edge of field goal range.

Without those struggles, there’s a decent chance that Texas finishes the season at 10-3 with wins over Maryland, No. 4 USC and No. 12 Oklahoma, as opposed to 7-6. Yes, the latter proves Texas did progress with its first bowl victory and winning season since 2013, but the next step will be expected in 2018 and what that looks like in win column mar very well come down to the kicking game.

For Texas, that means either hoping Rowland looks the part of his late-season self, in which he made all three attempt against Texas Tech and his only attempt in the Texas Bowl, or put its trust into the true freshman leg of Lake Travis product Cameron Dicker.

The latter will arrive in Austin as the nation’s No. 4-ranked kicker in the country and the top-ranked kicker coming to the Big 12 after sinking 14-of-18 attempts as a senior, including a connection from 53 yards. At the very least, the Austin native’s presence will put pressure on Rowland to improve and despite the freshman status, Dicker has the leg and accuracy to take over the job from day one.

The bad news, however, is that until one of the two solidifies themselves as a bona fide top option that the staff can trust, it may be difficult for Herman and his staff to find much trust in their kicking game. Giving how costly that lack of trust proved to be in 2017, the ‘Horns have just over eight months to figure it out this time around in hopes of taking the next step in the win column.