The most important recruit Texas coach Tom Herman will sign in December isn’t obvious, nor is he necessarily glamorous.
It’s not the two four-star quarterbacks. It’s not Keaontay Ingram, who many consider the best running back in the state. It’s not five-star safety B.J. Foster or any of the defensive players.
It’s Lake Travis kicker Cameron Dicker, who is 30 for 37 on field goals during his prep career with the Cavaliers. He’s made 210 of 212 extra points, too. Dicker is considered the No. 1 recruit in the nation at his position.
Man, do the Longhorns need a kicker. It would be ideal if they could sign one before this Saturday’s road trip to West Virginia (7-3, 5-2 Big 12). NCAA rule enforcement is arbitrary guesswork, but it’s still unlikely. It might actually be worth the slap on the wrist and tsk-tsking from Indianapolis. That’s all anybody gets nowadays anyway.
With two regular-season games left, Texas (5-5, 4-3) must figure things out in search of just one more win for bowl eligibility.
“As a kicker, you’re either the most liked player, the most hated player or you’re just there,” Dicker told the American-Statesman in May. “Most of the time, we’re just there.”
Let this season be a warning to any young coach who dismisses the importance of special teams. For goodness sake, find a competent kicker and give him or her a scholarship. Scour the soccer fields if need be. Keep an eye on grader schools playing kickball.
This season has fully exposed the dangers of an inconsistent kicking game. It’s radically changed Herman’s thought process about fourth down and warped field position.
Herman switched kickers before last week’s 42-27 win over Kansas, but even that didn’t work. Backup Mitchell Becker missed a 44-yard attempt in the second quarter. He was never trotted out again, except for extra points.
“I think the biggest frustrating one tonight was, I think it was fourth-and-6 on the (Kansas 36),” Herman said afterward. “I’m not going to line up and attempt a 51-yard field goal, but are you going to punt it from the (36-yard line), too? That seems a little bit silly as well.”
On fourth-and-6, quarterback Shane Buechele tried a short pass to Lil’Jordan Humphrey, who got swallowed up almost immediately for no gain. The Jayhawks took over with decent field position after the turnover on downs.
On the next possession, stuck in a proverbial no-man’s land, it happened again. Texas had fourth-and-4 from the Kansas 35. Buechele threw incomplete to Humphrey, and the Jayhawks took over on downs.
“I don’t know what else there is to do except go for it,” Herman said. “And we’ve got to have a really good plan moving forward.”
The plan is to sign Dicker, who has a career long of 53 yards.
Herman lost faith in kicker Josh Rowland earlier this season. The junior transfer is 1 for 6 from 40 yards or more. But he’s also 1 for 3 from 20 to 29 yards and 7 for 14 overall.
Enter Becker, a senior from League City. He did go 6 for 6 on extra points, a supposedly automatic event that’s been plagued with problems in recent years.
All of these missed scoring opportunities add up. Rowland missed a 39-yarder against USC that could’ve made the difference. Texas had to go into overtime and lost 27-24 in double OT. He also missed a potentially game-winning 45-yarder against Kansas State with 2 seconds left. But Texas did get that victory anyway — a 40-34 decision in double overtime.
Without any sort of kicking predictability, the Horns wind up going for it. A lot. Texas is 11 for 27 on fourth down this season. The Horns are tied for the fourth-most attempts in the nation. This team’s success rate is 106th nationally.
Herman chose to go for it on fourth-and-8 from the Oklahoma 27-yard line in the fourth quarter trailing by six. That didn’t work. The Horns did get the ball back and scored on the next possession for a 24-23 lead.
OU pulled back ahead in the fourth quarter, so Herman had to roll the dice again. Facing fourth-and-13 from the OU 34, Sam Ehlinger was chased out of the pocket and threw it away.
Now, it’s doubtful Herman would have chosen to kick a field goal with just under 2 minutes left in that situation. But let’s say Texas did get three points there. It changes the dynamics when UT takes over again at its own 4-yard line with 49 seconds left. Texas would need only a field goal to win, not a 96-yard touchdown drive. OU won 29-24.
What about fourth-and-1 at the Oklahoma State 28-yard line in the second quarter? A field goal gives Texas a 10-7 lead at that point. Instead, Chris Warren III plowed ahead for a narrow first down. Two plays later, Sam Ehlinger had to chase down a fumble for a 34-yard loss, and the Horns punted.
Oklahoma State won 13-10 in overtime. Ehlinger threw a game-ending interception on third-and-4. If he simply throws that ball away, then Texas trots out a competent kicker for a chip shot and the game goes into double OT.
All of this mental back-and-forth messed with Herman’s head against Baylor.
The Horns had fourth-and-goal at the Baylor 1 — practically the 1-inch line. His well-known, color-coded binder would indicate an easy decision: go for it. But now possibly gun-shy, Herman sent out Rowland for an 18-yard field goal as Texas took a 24-7 lead.
If your head hurts, imagine Herman’s. Signing Dicker won’t solve all the Longhorns’ problems, but it’s a start.
“I think the defensive coaches and players are all on board,” Herman said. “They understand our situation.”
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email email@example.com.
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