Tucker's production will be missed

AUSTIN, Texas -- The look has become a classic.

Burnt orange or solid white, with the same Longhorn logo on the helmet.

Texas is not an upstart or look-at-me program that has had to change its uniforms with time. Instead the Longhorns have been timeless. Their uniforms are the classic black tux of college football.

Then there are the shoes.

"I don't know what color they are," Texas coach Mack Brown said.

They're not a color. They're Vegas at 2 a.m. They're Skittles. They're that algae experiment someone forgot to clean out of the Petri dish over the summer.

But most of all they're Justin Tucker's. And they work.

"I'm not going to mention shoes to a kicker that's making kicks," Brown said.

That's what Tucker did all season. The senior, in his hide-your-eyes shoes that we will understatedly call bright orange, made 17 of 20 field goals. None was bigger than the 40-yarder to beat Texas A&M, but just about every one of them was important.

Think about it when you have an offense that can't score in the red zone -- Texas was last in the conference in converting those opportunities to touchdowns -- you have to have a kicker who can convert. Over and over again. So in that aspect, Tucker has lived up to the name Texas calls its field goal unit -- automatic.

The thing about Tucker is he has been automatic from everywhere. The senior not only handles field goals, but kickoffs and punts as well.

"Obviously I'd love to do everything from take snaps at QB to catching touchdown passes," he said. "But as it is, I do love scoring points and putting points on the board for our team and just propelling us to victories is probably one of the most satisfying things about being a placekicker and a kickoff guy."

His punts are the weakest aspect of his game. Tucker averaged 38.5 yards per punt, 10th in the Big 12. But opponents averaged just 2.6 return yards against the Longhorns, so what Tucker lacked in distance he made up for in height. And what Tucker lacked in both -- Texas A&M comes to mind -- he made up for with his field goal kicking. He only missed seven in two years.

Tucker can and has done it all on special teams for Texas. At the very least he saves the Longhorns one scholarship because of his ability to punt and kick. It could be argued, particularly with kickoffs moved back a few years ago, that he saves Texas two scholarships because of his ability to kick off. After the Bridgepoint Holiday Bowl, Texas now has to fill that void.

Ben Pruitt, a freshman. who was a high school All-American, is waiting in the wings. But Pruitt doesn't punt. That duty would fall to William Russ, who had two kickoffs against Kansas but did not punt this season.

Texas also has a commitment from Nick Jordan (Coppell, Texas/Coppell). Jordan is rated the fourth-best kicker nationally by ESPNU. Jordan should be in the mix for the starting field-goal kicking spot in 2012 and can handle kickoffs. But, once again, he will not punt.

Now everyone will just have to wait and see if any of these players can fill Tucker's shoes.

Carter Strickland covers University of Texas football and recruiting for HornsNation

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