Rugby punt, move over for the new and improved reverse rugby
Cedric Golden, Commentary – Austin American Statesman
What happened to the hated rugby punt?
It’s still here. It’s just not so hated anymore.
In fact, the old rugby right punt just got sexy, thanks to Texas’ Justin Tucker.
The two most overlooked plays in the win at Nebraska had to be plays that didn’t even involve the offense. The Longhorns added a wrinkle to Tucker’s rugby punt by having him roll to his right as usual, only this time he kicked the ball back to his left, diagonally across the field, as opposed to the regular rugby punt, which is straighter.
The reverse rugby surprised Nebraska returnman Niles Paul, who couldn’t get over in time to retrieve the ball. Malcolm Williams downed Tucker’s first boot — a 55-yarder — at the Nebraska 3-yard line. Later, Williams downed Tucker’s 67-yarder at the Huskers’ 5.
To his credit, Tucker made sure to send Williams a text message after the game: “Thanks for making me look good.”
I’ve never been a fan of the rugby punt, especially when the punter appears to be rolling toward the guy trying to block it, but this newfangled reverse rugby may have some merit.
I mentioned to Tucker that his unconventional style hasn’t been the most popular mode of punting with fans over the past couple of seasons, but that didn’t bother him.
“As with anything in football, there are times when you change things up,” Tucker said. “You don’t see a lot of teams running the wishbone much anymore. Our coaching staff has done a good job of trying new things. If something isn’t working as perfectly as you want, you should change it, so props to the coaching staff for coming up with this.”
Head coach Mack Brown hasn’t been happy with Texas’ coverage teams, but the punting game was solid in Lincoln up until that failed pooch punt that made things interesting.
Punting is important to any team’s success, but it wasn’t always on the front burner in years past because Texas wasn’t punting much back in the day.
The current group is averaging 5.1 punts per game, which ranks as the highest number of attempts at Texas over the past five years. Compare that number to the national championship team in 2005 that led the nation in scoring and attempted only 3.3 punts per game.
Tucker’s new toy could pay dividends in the second half of the season, particularly for a team that doesn’t light up the scoreboard like past Texas teams did. This offense has gone the way of the national recession. The chips aren’t stacking up these days.
Six games have shown us that this is Brown’s worst offense statistically over his 13 seasons here, and since Texas isn’t scoring 40 points a game, the roles of Tucker and punting mate John Gold have taken on added significance.
When Texas teams were scoring in bunches, field position hardly mattered. But times have changed. There was a time when fans could go grab a beer from the fridge before the punt and time it during the commercial, but now field position is even more important than it used to be, so they’re tuning in to see if the offense can get hooked up with a short field.
With all due respect to Gold, Tucker’s popularity is at an all-time high, especially among his defensive teammates, who love nothing more than a short field to get after an opponent. They also like his hard-nosed approach to kickoffs.
“A couple of times when a kickoff return has broken (containment), he’s been the first to throw his face in there,” safety Blake Gideon said. “He thinks he’s a lot bigger than he is, but he’s tough.”
Tucker played safety at Westlake, and he admitted he looks forward to sticking his helmet in there on kick coverage.
“The last thing I want is to be toasted by Dezmon Briscoe,” he said, referring to the former Kansas speedster who returned one of his kicks 98 yards for a touchdown last season. “(Tackling) is much better than having a guy blow by you.”
The number of rugby punts that will be called is anybody’s guess moving forward, but now that Tucker has two options in his rugby arsenal, it’s Texas opponents who will be doing all the guessing.