One of the most pointed critiques Nick Saban delivered this season came last month after Alabama defeated The Citadel, 50-17.
Saban wasn’t bothered by a defense that hemorrhaged 275 rushing yards against the plucky FCS side. Rather, he was troubled by what happened in the fourth quarter after the Crimson Tide had scored a touchdown that extended its sizable lead.
For the eighth time this season, Alabama failed on an extra-point try.
“It’s not really acceptable to me, to be honest with you, from anyone’s standpoint,” Saban said.
That included Joseph Bulovas, who was responsible for the miss.
Bulovas has experienced a trying first season as the Crimson Tide’s newest kicker — a position that only a few of his predecessors have mastered during their time in Tuscaloosa.
“I think it’s just a learning process here,” Bulovas said after the SEC championship game. “It’s my first year starting. Obviously, there are some great expectations. But that’s why you come here — to be with the best and be on the biggest stage in the country. I am just cherishing every moment and being very thankful and taking advantage of everything I can because that is all you can do is try to do your best.”
Bulovas arrived at Alabama last year with much fanfare, in part because of a video posted on YouTube that showed him in high school converting a 70-yard field goal in practice. But Bulovas redshirted as a freshman, biding his time as senior Andy Pappanastos handled the placekicking duties. And it was uncertain if he would even be used regularly this fall after graduate transfer Austin Jones debuted as the starter in the opener against Louisville.
Yet after Jones botched three point-after attempts in the first two games, Bulovas was presented with his opportunity.
Since then, he’s experienced mixed results. He’s converted 75 percent of his field-goal attempts, including a 49-yard try against Mississippi State. But extra points — the football equivalent of golf’s gimmes — haven’t always come easy.
Bulovas has missed five of them.
“There’s no excuse for it,” Bulovas said. “We just have to be more consistent with the whole operation.”
Snap, hold and kick — as Saban alluded to in his harsh assessment of the kicking issues.
“We’re going to work really, really hard to get it fixed,” the Alabama coach said then. “If there’s someone else on our team that we feel we can do it better, the possibility exists that we’ll do that, whether it’s snapper, holder or kicker.”
Saban’s veiled threat could have discouraged Bulovas, made him even more uncertain.
But it only hardened him.
“He coaches us like everyone’s position and that’s the way I think it should be — hard and demanding results,” Bulovas said.
Bulovas, in turn, has delivered ever since Saban called him out in that news conference. He has made all 12 extra points and the only field goal he attempted.
“At the end of the day,” Bulovas said, “you’ve got to put the ball through those uprights.”
Rainer Sabin is an Alabama beat writer for the Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @RainerSabin