Report Card: Special Teams

Joe Yeager continues to hand out final grades and the special teams grade is in after a tough season.

Donnie Carona, Ryan Erxleben, Aaron Fisher, Bradley Marquez, Ben McRoy, Jackson Richards, Jesse Smitherman, Sawyer Vest, Austin Zouzalik, Alex Torres, DeAndre Washington, Eric Ward, Cqulin Hubert, Omar Ontiveros, Cornelius Douglas, Bradley Hicks  


Key Stat: The Red Raiders were No.94 nationally in kickoff return coverage, allowing opponents 23.5 yards per return. Tech's defense needed all the help it could get, but didn't get much from the kickoff coverage unit.



Key stat aside, Texas Tech's special teams were quite solid in 2011. Indeed, this side of the football was just about as strong as the offense. In point of fact, the Red Raiders' special teams were good enough to win more than a mere five games.


Now you never want your kicker to be your team MVP, but Donnie Carona may have filled that bill for the Red Raiders last season. His first three seasons in Lubbock were filled with more hard knocks than a 1980 Volkswagen Rabbit diesel, but Carona pushed through to an outstanding senior campaign.


He connected on 14 of 18 field goals, including seven of eight between 40 and 49 yards. Carona was also a perfect 50 of 50 on PATs, which tied for second best in the nation. His kickoffs were solid and he proved to be an ace on onsides kicks as well. Carona's lone pratfall was having three field goal attempts blocked. Outside of that, it was a near perfect season for the Beaumont native.  


Punter Ryan Erxleben was not as outstanding as Carona, but he wasn't bad at all. He averaged 41.2 yards per punt, which was No.46 nationally, and his net punting was a very acceptable 38 yards. Erxleben did a nice job of dropping punts inside the opponent's 15 yard-line as well.


Tech's return and coverage units were a mixed bag. As noted above, kickoff coverage was terrible, but punt return coverage was quite good. The Red Raiders allowed only 5.2 yards per punt return, which was 22nd best in the country. If Tech had a headhunter on coverage it was probably inside receiver Aaron Fisher.


As for Tech's own return teams, the Red Raiders averaged a paltry 6.1 yards per punt return and a mediocre 22 yards per kickoff return. Austin Zouzalik averaged 6.9 yards on 11 punt returns, while Ben McRoy averaged 25 yards per kickoff return. Bradley Marquez and DeAndre Washington were far less successful than McRoy, each averaging 18.7 yards per take-back.


On the whole, however, Tech's special teams were far more sound than they were in 2010. Outside of the three blocked field goal attempts, there were none of the silly gaffes that plagued the 2010 unit. In short, special teams improved noticeably in Tommy Tuberville's second season on the high plains.


Grade: B

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