Texas struggling to find its new kicker

AUSTIN, Texas -- Eventually a game and a season will come down to a kick.

There was Kris Stockton against Texas A&M in 1998. Four seasons later Dusty Mangum hit a 27-yarder to beat No. 17 Kansas State in 2002. Controversy swirled around Hunter Lawrence’s 46-yarder in the 2009 Big 12 Championship game, but the quality of the kick could not be argued. And, not enough time has passed or may ever pass for people to forget Justin Tucker’s 40-yarder to beat Texas A&M one final time in 2011.

Over Mack Brown’s 14 years, there have been eight game-winning field goals made. None have been missed. Of course it could be argued any field goal missed in a close loss is a game-losing field goal. For instance, Mangum missing from 49 in the third quarter in the 39-37 loss to Colorado in 2001 could be considered a miss that changed the game.

But when the clock is at less than two minutes and the game is on the line, Brown’s kickers have never missed.

Now Texas is missing a kicker. Missing might be a tad strong. There are two enrolled right now. It’s just that neither has ever attempted a field goal in a game. And both Ben Pruitt and Will Russ are struggling in spring practice.

“We are not going to have the experience that we have had, but we have kicked with a lot of young kickers before,” Brown said.

True enough. But Texas has only had one true freshman kicker in the Brown era. That was Mangum in 2001. (Lawrence handled kickoffs as a true freshman.)

Now with the prospects on campus not panning out, Texas could be looking to true freshman Nick Jordan to take over as the field goal kicker.

Jordan has the credentials. He was considered one of the top five kickers in the country, played in the U.S. Army All-American game and missed only five field goals in high school.

“We saw him kick out on a 60-plus-yard field goal, and he pulled it a little bit left,” Brown said. “But so we have seen him with a very strong leg.”

Jordan might be better served with nerves of steel.

Unlike Mangum, who was surrounded by experienced talent and was a happy observer of many blowout wins his freshman year in 2001, Jordan could be involved in several key situations in several key games.

While Texas’ offense might be better in 2012, expecting it to take a quantum leap from the lowly levels of 2011 is, well, taking an equally large leap of faith. This, after all, was an offense that was 107th in red zone offense last season. In 53 trips it only had 27 touchdowns. (The offense in 2001 scored 38 touchdowns on 58 trips into the red zone.) That leaves a lot of room for field goals. Which, in turn, places a lot of pressure on a true freshman’s shoulders.

Mangum, who did not have the credentials of Jordan, handled it as well as could be expected. He was 18-of-26 in 2001. His only crucial misses were the aforementioned one against Colorado. (He made three others in that game.) In the only other loss that season, Mangum had a 35-yard attempt blocked in the second quarter against Oklahoma.

If Pruitt or Russ don’t straighten out their issues, and kicks, this spring or over the summer, Jordan could be thrown into similar pressure-packed situations just a month after he starts practice with the Longhorns in August.