Texas' MVP? Here's One, for Kicks

Celebrating after yet another game-winner (AP)

Texas RB Jamaal Charles and QB Colt McCoy will likely share team MVP honors at season's end, but another ‘Horn has stated his case. Here's a hint: no one had even heard of him until 15 games ago.

When Ryan Bailey calmly trotted onto the frozen tundra in the closing seconds at Lincoln, Nebraska last season, members of the media literally began screaming to know who this kid was. Apparently, so did several Longhorn players. Now, the junior is a lock for post-season All-Big 12 honors. But how about Team MVP?

For the second straight week, Bailey is the Big 12 ‘Special Teams Player of the Week', marking the first time in seven years that a Longhorn has won the same conference honor consecutively (RB Hodges Mitchell).

Bailey's game-winning FG Saturday at Oklahoma State marked just the fourth time in Longhorn football history that a game was decided on the final snap.

"He's really a confident kid," Texas coach Mack Brown told Inside Texas. "He's a tough kid, but he's not an emotional kid. During the fourth quarter (at Oklahoma State), all of his teammates kept coming up to him, saying ‘It's going to come down to you! It's going to come down to you!' He told them to leave him alone."

It was also the second of two game-winners for Bailey which, for now, form the bookends of a remarkable career for a kid who came out of nowhere.

Well, he actually came from Austin Anderson High School (alma mater of Yours Truly as well as Inside Texas co-publisher Clendon Ross). But no bias here! Consider the body of evidence:
…Bailey's five FGs at Central Florida tied a school record. He was responsible for nearly half of Texas' points in the 35-32 escape. His 17 points that day also tied a single-game school record for kickers.
…Bailey was named the league's top special teams player last week after connecting on FGs from 38, 47 and 49 yards in the three-point win over Nebraska. Bailey was responsible for 10 of Texas' 28 points. ("He won the Nebraska game," Brown said. "He got long kicks to get us back in it").
…His game-winning 40-yard FG as time expired at Oklahoma State capped the largest fourth-quarter comeback in school history.

In short: remove Bailey from the equation and Texas is likely a four- or five-loss team right now.

Bailey, of course, was thrust onto the scene on October 23, 2006 in snowy Lincoln after starter Greg Johnson re-injured his groin during the second half. But many scholarship players concede they did not know who Bailey was prior to that day.

For example, NT Derek Lokey said that, prior to the 2006 win at Nebraska, players had no reason to have confidence in Bailey simply because of their very limited interaction with special teams players. ("But I knew Coach Brown had confidence in him," Lokey added).

I asked Brown this week if he actually was confident that Bailey would nail the game-winner at Nebraska or if his presence that day was mere happenstance.

"It was like recruiting Colt McCoy," Brown replied. "You saw him do it in a small school, but you didn't know how he would do on a big stage. But Ryan kept doing it every day in practice. I honestly didn't know who he was. You watch your kickers for a while and then you ask your coaches, ‘Who is that kid?' I hadn't seen him miss in four weeks, so you figure he could do it in a game. The good thing about him is, if he misses, it's something fundamental rather than emotional."

Bailey hasn't missed much. He is 21-of-25 FG attempts since the 22-20 win at Nebraska while his 78.9 percent accuracy on FGs this season (15-of-19) leads the Big 12. He was awarded a scholarship just before the season.

One of the tweaks that first-year assistant Larry Mac Duff brought to the program this year is to simulate a pressure-packed situation during every kick in practice.

"Every kick that we kick, the whole team has to run onto the field to kick it," Brown said. "It's helped us fundamentally. So, every kick is a pressure kick. Every day, we kick it like it's the game-winner. I heard Ryan say after the (OSU) game that all kicks are the same. Well, they really are."

But, obviously, not all FG kickers are the same. Fortunately, for Texas, Bailey is exceptional.

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