Buckeyes, Longhorns Expect To Get Their Kicks

Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel is well-known in football circles for the emphasis he puts on special teams play. He has an ally in that belief in Texas head coach Mack Brown, which means that both teams in the upcoming Fiesta Bowl expect to be solid in the kicking game. If one is not, it could decide the game.

Flash back to Oct. 11 to find out just how important special teams can be to a football game.

Very quickly, Texas' big moment in the spotlight was going bad. The fifth-ranked Longhorns were trailing to No. 1 Oklahoma 14-3 early in the second quarter during their showcase game – and yet another meeting in the Red River Rivalry – and needed to change momentum.

Jordan Shipley came to the rescue. Taking the kickoff after an Oklahoma touchdown, Shipley raced 96 yards for a score. The Longhorns eventually won 45-35 to take over the top ranking in the nation.

Flash forward three weekends from there and Shipley did it again, returning a punt 45 yards early in the third quarter to cut Texas Tech's lead from 22-6 to 22-13. The Longhorns eventually took the lead after Shipley's touchdown, though they lost on a play with one second to go.

In other words, Shipley has the ability to change a game in the special teams arena.

"He's very fast, even on tape," Ohio State special teams ace Shaun Lane said. "I can't imagine what it's like in real life, but on tape he's very fast and he can pull away from you. He's quick too. He's quick and fast, which is a deadly combination. Most guys are just fast or just quick but when you have both you can really make a difference."

That Texas would have a player with the ability to change the game isn't that surprising to Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel, who has spoken a few times about how he and Mack Brown are cut from the same mold – and that coaching mold includes a focus on special teams.

"Their special teams probably aren't talked about as much as their offense and their defense, but I think they're outstanding," Tressel said.

Of course, Tressel thinks he has a pretty good group of special teams as well. Kickers Ryan Pretorius and Aaron Pettrey combined to make 19 of 23 field goals this year, with Pettrey making all five of his chances. Punter A.J. Trapasso averaged 41.3 yards per kick and showed his ability to hit the ball with a season-long of 67 yards.

Though the Buckeyes struggled in the kick return arena – Lamaar Thomas took over the job halfway through the year and averaged 22.1 yards per try – they had an excellent punt return man in Ray Small.

The junior's average of 15.1 yards per return was seventh in the nation, and he had two long returns – a 69-yard touchdown against Ohio that helped ice the game, and an electric 80-yard return during his first game back from suspension against Michigan that helped set up a touchdown.

"From the sideline, he looks so quick right now," Pretorius said. "He's done a great job."

The Buckeyes were solid in covering returns, as well. The longest punt return against OSU was just 13 yards – a stat that helped the Buckeyes finish 10th in the country in net punting – while keeping teams to an average of just 17.4 yards per kick return. When it came to big plays there, Ohio State fans delighted in Austin Spitler's hit that knocked Sam McGuffie out of the Michigan game.

They'll need to be on their games against Shipley and Quan Cosby. The two share each return responsibility, with Shipley averaging 28.4 yards on 11 kick returns and 10.7 on six punts. Cosby averages 21.2 yards on 16 kickoff tries and 6.3 yards on a half-dozen punt returns.

"We've been working really hard on keeping it to the sideline," Trapasso said. "Their return guys are very dangerous. They're very good, very talented guys, as are ours."

The rest of Texas' special teams are solid. Kicker Hunter Lawrence was a second-team All-Big Ten choice, while Texas is fourth in the nation at net punting with an average of 40.2 yards per kick. Sophomore John Gold averages an even 45.0 yards on his 21 boots and had just three touchbacks.

"Their punter has hang time unlike anything I've ever seen," Tressel said. "We've seen hang times of up over five seconds on his punts, which is highly unusual."

In other words, if the Fiesta Bowl comes down to a special teams play, there are two teams that are more than willing to make it.

"I mean, that's going to be the decider," Pretorius said.

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