Special Teams Playing Key Role

While the Texas Tech offense has been getting lots of recognition, the special teams units have quietly become a vital part of this Red Raider team. Everyone already knew about Wes Welker, but the rest of the special teams players have been playing nearly perfect football.

The return game has had big play potential for the past few seasons, and this year is no different. Jonnie Mack and Nehemiah Glover have averaged 27.3 yards per return this season. Mack has been the most explosive with several long returns, including a 50-yard return from deep in the end zone against Texas A&M. Mack doesn't run out of the end zone as often as past returners, but he does have the option on every return. Mack has shown good discretion by only leaving the end zone when the opportunity is right. His two biggest returns, including an 80-yard return against SMU, have come from deep in the end zone.

Wes Welker is still the biggest name among the three return men. He has already returned 1 punt for a touchdown, and he continues to be a threat every time he touches the ball. His overall averages (9.8 yards per return) have suffered because of the elimination of the halo rule. Despite the changes, Welker still refuses to fair catch punts. This strategy might have played a factor in his fumble during the N.C. State game, but overall it has been successful.

The biggest improvement has come on the kick coverage team. Keith Toogood has the ability to kick the ball out of the end zone (14 touchbacks), but when he doesn't, the coverage team is there to make the play. "That was the best kickoff team in the country," said Head Coach Mike Leach. Texas A&M saw just how good this unit is when the Red Raiders smothered the Aggies on every return, even when they were forced to kick from the twenty yard line.

Toogood is also handling the placekicking duties. Toogood as made 2 of 3 field goals this season, and converted 29 of 30 extra points this season. With the high powere Texas Tech offense, Toogood doesn't get many chances to kick field goals, but he does have a strong leg, and has made kicks from more than 50 yards in practices.

Another area of improvement has been the punt team. Alex Reyes has shown a strong leg this season, averaging 40.5 yards per punt. Reyes isn't just a strong leg though, his accuracy is also impressive. Of his 11 punts, 5 have landed inside the 20. during the preseason, Special Teams Coach Ruffin McNeil called Reyes the best defensive weapon on the team. So far this has been true. While the Red Raiders don't want to see Reyes punt too often, it is nice to know that they have him if necessary.

Special teams are frequently the most underrated part of a football team. At Texas Tech the offense receives all of the praise, while the special teams have played important roles in each of the Red Raiders victories this season. Coach Leach places a great amount of emphasis on his team rising on all three sides of the ball, and so far the offense and special teams have done their job with good consistency. If the defense can reach the same level of consistency, the Red Raiders would be virtually unstoppable.

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