On Vasher's 59-yard first quarter return, UT almost blocked the punt, but aside from that play, the Horns didn't get close to any others. The return team set up the return rather than going for the block on the majority of UNC's 12 punts. Vasher's speed and shiftiness account for some of his return success, but also credit the Texas return/block team, coached by Duane Akina, for giving Vasher room to run. Walk-on Richard Hightower, with a crushing block of UNC's Doug Brown, deserves a piece of the acclaim for setting Vasher free on his TD return. Brown probably doesn't remember it, but he's gonna cringe when he sees the play on film. Rod Babers also made an important block on the TD return that allowed Vasher to get to the sideline, where he turned it up and on and took it to the house.
Dusty Mangum belongs on the special teams all-star list along with Vasher after nailing all three of his field goal attempts, from 36, 49 and 51 yards. The 36-yarder gave the Horns the lead after the Heels tied the game in the second quarter and his 49-yarder right before the half into a pretty stiff southerly breeze gave the Horns a boost heading into the locker room. He boomed a 51-yarder true on the second play of the fourth quarter that, with the game still in doubt, pushed the Texas lead past two TDs to 29-14. Mangum has made all five of his field goal attempts and all eight of his extra point attempts this fall.
Newcomer Dan Smith held on to the kickoff duties after performing well last week. He sent the opening kickoff into the end zone for a touchback, and followed that with kicks to the goalline (called back because of a penalty), to the one (from the 30) and to the goalline with a strong tailwind in the first quarter. Into the wind in the second quarter, Smith kicked to the 12. After the break and against the wind, the junior walk-on hit his only attempt to the 10. With the wind again in the fourth, Smith sent the ball to the goalline and then into the end zone for touchbacks on his final two kicks. The kickoff coverage team continues to do an outstanding job, allowing returns of 22, 23,18, 7, and 5 yards, an average of just 15 yards per return. On the five-yard return, the coverage team literally surrounded the UNC return man with six Orange jerseys, including Brett Robin, Beau Trahan, Michael Ungar and Reed Boyd, who was credited with the tackle. Texas scored on the next play when Maurice Gordon sacked Tar Heels' QB Ronald Curry in the end zone for a safety. Give the coverage team an assist on that one.
Brian Bradford had his best day (statistically) punting the ball Saturday, averaging 41.3 yards with a net of 36 on his nine punts. The Heels only returned two of Bradford's punts, one for three yards and the other for 15 (and 10 yards of that return was wiped out by a UNC penalty). The juco transfer also put three punts inside the 20 yardline and sent three into the end zone for touchbacks. Still a bit of work to do, but a far better performance this week than last.
And, finally, Victor Ike. The junior only had a couple of kickoff return opportunities, but he still totaled 68 yards in returns, including a 43-yarder after the Heels' first TD. Ivan Williams remained Ike's return partner, but the thought of Ike and Vasher back there is a tantalizing one. Perhaps in Houston. Regardless, the Texas special teams have transformed from a game-losing liability into a team strength, and the coaching staff deserves a lot of credit for turning things around.