UH game notes and analysis: special teams

Notes and analysis on the Horns' special teams performance in their 53-26 win over Houston:

After a spectacular performance vs. North Carolina two weeks ago, the Horns' special teams had a relatively uneventful night in Houston. Ervis Hill replaced Ivan Williams at kick returner, joining Victor Ike deep for the opening kick. Hill had one return on the day for 26 yards, but that return set up the UT O at the 40 for its TD drive just before the half. The Cougars, looking to avoid the Horns' dangerous returners, sent two kickoffs out of bounds, twice giving Texas starting field position at the 35. The "hands" unit of the kickoff return team also did a good job late in the game on Houston's on-side kick attempt. The ball did not travel 10 yards, and the Texas players wisely did not attempt to cover it.

Dan Smith struggled a bit on his kickoffs, sending his first attempt into a slight wind to the 13. His second kickoff traveled to just the 16. He executed a perfect squib kick just before the half, bouncing the ball past the Cougars' front line and into the open space between the up men, where Brett Robin covered after a Houston player muffed his attempt at grabbing the free ball. Smith, with the wind at his back, for some reason (possibly injury -- he apparently suffered a pulled hip flexor muscle) squibbed the opening kick of the second half, and Dusty Mangum replaced him on subsequent kickoffs. With the wind, Mangum sent his first kick to the two and followed that with a kick to the seven. In the fourth quarter against the wind, Mangum kicked to the 13 and the 17 before back-up punter Justin Smith sent the Horns' final kickoff to the 13. The coverage team had a rough start, giving up 18, 24, 18 and 20 yards on the Cougs' first four returns (for an average starting field position of the 30) but lowered those numbers to a more typical five, eight and 10 yards (for an average starting field position of the 18) on Houston's final three returns.

Brian Bradford punted just twice during the game, one into the wind from the Houston 41, angling the ball out at the 12, and the other with the wind from midfield, sending the punt 32 yards to the 18. UH's Keykowa Bell returned that one 11 yards to the 29. Bradford averaged 30.5 yards (25 yards net) on the two punts. Nathan Vasher was credited with two punt returns for 18 yards. On his first return, the sophomore scooted for 12 yards, but a block in the back call gave Vasher a net return of just two yards. He returned a second half punt 16 yards, setting the Horns up with a short field. Unfortunately, Texas did not take advantage of that short field when Mangum missed his first field goal of the season after nailing his first seven attempts, including a 41- and a 47-yarder Saturday night. The with-the-wind 47-yarder, set up by Smith's squib kick and Robin's recovery, extended the Horns' lead to 20-14 just before the half. Mangum missed his first extra point of the season following the Horns' final TD of the game. An unsportsmanlike penalty after Cedric Benson's score moved Mangum's attempt back 15 yards to the 18, and he missed the 35 yard extra point.

Heading into the Tech game, the coverage units and return teams remain strong, but the distance on both punts and kickoffs (and the resulting field position advantage given to opposing teams) is troublesome. Mangum's psychological reaction to his fourth quarter misses could also be a concern against the Red Raiders.

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