In his first season playing American football, punter Ryan Bujcevski had big shoes to fill.
In his first season playing football on U.S. soil, Bujcevski was tasked with replacing the greatest punter in Texas Longhorns history, his cousin Michael Dickson. Before declaring for the NFL Draft as a junior, Dickson managed to break his own record for highest punting average per season (47.43), as well as set the school record for longest average in a career (45.32).
In fact, there are only two punting records Dickson did not hold before he left the Forty Acres: most punts in a game (29) and longest punt (82 yards).
A drop off from Dickson’s record-setting season was to be expected when Bujcevski stepped in, but when the ball came off his foot the first time, fans got a glimpse of why he was the No. 2 punter in 2018. On the opening drive against Maryland, Bujcevski bombed a 56-yard punt down to the Maryland 22-yard line.
That was the first of three successful punts in first quarter, but that consistency was more of the exception rather than the rule.
His first punt of the second quarter came off the side of his foot and managed just 23 yards before being wiped out by a penalty. The redo was not much better, a 35-yard punt that would have put Maryland on the 30-yard line, if not for a 15-yard penalty.
That inconsistency plagued him through the first six games of the season, as Bujcevski averaged just 37.44 yards per punt, including a four-punt struggle against USC featuring punts of 31, 35, 36, and 38 yards. If that average held throughout the entire season, he would have finished the season ranked 99th nationally.
However, in the final eight games of the season, the Aussie punter built a 42.76 yard per punt average, improving by 3.35 yards per punt in that span.
Three yards may not seem like a huge difference, but the difference between the best and worst performances in the Big 12, and No. 81 and No. 30 nationally, is a difference of only 3.1 yards per punt.
The freshman from Australia did not simply add distance, but a level of consistency and added value in the latter part of the season.
Seven of his nine punts longer than 50 yards came during that span, including his season-high 56-yard bomb in the 23-17 win over the Baylor Bears. Not only did he manage to add consistent distance, but improved placement, as well. On the season, the freshman managed to pin opponents inside their own 20-yard line 18 times — 11 of those instances came in that final eight-game span.
Bujcevski, much like his cousin a season before, became a massive weapon for the Horns, giving the defense a longer field to work with. In that same win over Baylor, as Texas tried to run out the clock in the fourth quarter before being forced to punt after six plays and three minutes, Bujcevski took the field and delivered yet another bomb, this one a 55-yard punt pinning Baylor on its own three-yard line down seven with 1:47 left to play.
He did it again two weeks later against the Texas Tech, this time a 51-yard punt to pin them deep in their own territory.
Perhaps most impressive was his performance in the Sugar Bowl against Georgia. The Texas defense may have been the star of the show, but Bujcevski put them in incredible position to key on Jake Fromm and the Georgia offense. Four of his five punts on the day were downed inside the UGA 20-yard line.
His first quarter 33-yard pooch punt punned the Bulldogs on their own 10-yard line. Two plays later, Ta’Quon Graham separated De’Andre Swift from the ball and Texas recovered. The offense turned that situation into points thanks to a Sam Ehlinger touchdown, giving the underdog Longhorns a 17-point cushion.
So as Todd Orlando looks to reload a talented defense that loses nine starters, Bujcevski could be the key to giving the defense time to gel.