Tech game notes and analysis: special teams

Notes and analysis on the Horns' special teams performance in their 42-7 win over Texas Tech:

Measuring by the UNC game standard, the Horns had their second straight relatively uneventful special teams performance Saturday vs. Tech. No TD returns. No blocked kicks. But overall solid play.

With walk-on kickoff specialist Dan Smith out with a hip flexor pull, David Pino took over the starting kickoff role, leaving Dusty Mangum to handle only the extra point and field goal kicking. Pino did an adequate job, sending his kickoffs with the wind to the eight, the two, the four, and the three, and against the wind to the 12, the 10 and the eight. Those relatively short kickoffs could be exploited this week by Oklahoma, with stud Antwone Savage a better return team than any the Horns have faced so far, and the trouble could be magnified because the Sooners are a better offense and far more likely to take advantage of better field position than any team Texas has faced so far this season. The work of preventing OU from getting that field position will fall to the UT coverage team, which continues to be outstanding. The Horns allowed returns of 12, 12, 16, 11, 16, 29 and 11, giving the Red Raiders an average starting field position of just the 18. Beau Trahan totaled five tackles on UT's seven kickoffs. Derrick Johnson, who made his first start at linebacker, continued to work on the starting kick coverage team and he stripped Tech returner Ivory McCann on the kickoff after Texas went up 28-7 early in the third quarter. Walk-on special teams standout Richard Hightower recovered at the Red Raider 13, setting up the offense for a short scoring drive. Along with the fumble recovery, Hightower was in on the tackle on the opening kickoff.

Mangum missed on his only field goal attempt of the game, hitting the right upright on a 30-yarder in the third quarter. Mack Brown said Mangum, who has now missed his last two field goal attempts after starting the season a perfect seven-for-seven, is not fully following through on his kicks. He said it's probably good that Mangum missed the attempt against Tech in a blowout because it will help the coaches reinforce the fact that he needs to follow through to be successful.

For the second week in a row, the Texas offense consistently drove the ball and scored a lot of points, allowing punter Brian Bradford to spend the majority of the game on the sidelines as a spectator. Bradford punted twice, sending each 35 yards downfield. His first attempt, from the visitor's 47 and fair caught by Tech punt returner Wes Welker, backed the Red Raiders up to the 12. His second attempt, from the UT 47, traveled to the 18 and was returned eight yards to the 26. Bradford finished with a net of 31 yards per punt.

Tech K Clinton Greathouse only kicked off to the Horns twice, sending a first half attempt to the three and the opening kickoff of the second half into the end zone for a touchback. Don't discount the importance, though, of Victor Ike's lone return. The Raiders had just thrust themselves into the game by cutting the Texas lead to 14-7 early in the second quarter. Any defensive momentum that Tech may have gained vanished with Ike's 44-yard return. The Texas offense took quick advantage of the great field position, scoring three plays later on a 40-yard Chris Simms-to-Roy Williams TD toss and putting a bit of scoreboard distance between the two teams.

With the Red Raider offense fairly consistently going for fourth down conversions rather than punting, Nathan Vasher had his quietest day this season (in the return game), fair catching two of the punts that came his way and letting two others hit and roll. The first hit and roll probably cost Texas about 15 yards in field position, but it's obvious that since the adventuresome UNC game, Vasher is trying to eliminate potential turnover situations. Another note on Vasher: I specified above that the Tech game was Vasher's quietest in the return game because he made the game's loudest play on one of Tech's fourth down attempts. With Vasher in deep return, Raider punter Greathouse tried to connect with WR Carlos Francis on a downfield pass. Francis had a step on Quentin Jammer, but Vasher played center field on the play, smashing into Francis just after the ball arrived, loudly separating him from the ball and, temporarily, from his senses. Francis lay on the grass while Vasher was mobbed by his teammates. The Horns received a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty on the play.

One final, non-game specific note: Over the last two seasons, the Texas special teams have progressed from a glaring weakness to an area of strength. Brown partially attributes that to experience. The Horns have older players on each of the special teams, and more depth, Matter of fact, the coaches now work special teams two deep rather than the one deep they managed through the first couple of years. The head coach said, aside from developing depth and maturity, the coaches haven't changed their coaching other than meeting more and reviewing more film. Given that, the coaches deserve credit for turning a former liability into a strength, so I recently asked Brown to break down the special teams responsibilities so the individual coaches that have been instrumental in the turnaround get a bit of recognition. Brown said the head coach makes the decisions on the pool of players that will be available to play on special teams. Past that, the coaches choose who they want on their individual units. Here is the breakdown of coaching responsibilities: Mike Tolleson oversees all of special teams units and he's also responsible for the punt team and, along with Tim Nunez, the deep snappers; Hardee McCrary handles the kickoff coverage unit and he coaches the kickers and punters (he was responsible for finding walk-on kickers Mangum and Pino); Tim Brewster is in charge of kickoff return; Duane Akina has the reigns of the punt block/return unit; Carl Reese handles the extra point/field goal block unit; Darryl Drake leads the extra point/field goal unit; and Drake and Nunez coach the punt and kick coverage gunners. Brown said that on kickoffs and punts, there are also right and left side responsibilities, so that every aspect of the unit is evaluated on every play.


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