OSU game notes and analysis: special teams

Notes and analysis on the Horns' special teams performance in their 45-17 win over Oklahoma State:

Until Saturday in Stillwater, special teams had been a surprisingly strong part of the Longhorn team this fall. Poor punting, terrible kickoff depth and blown kickoff coverages marred the Horns' comfortable win over Oklahoma State, though, and raised the ugly specter of recent collapses by that unit. The strong north wind, which blew from sideline to sideline rather than goalline to goalline as in most stadiums, certainly played a part in the poor performance of kickoff specialist David Pino and punter Brian Bradford, but their counterparts in the pumpkin orange still managed far better efforts.

Pino sent the game's opening kickoff out of bounds at about the 25, setting up the Cowboys with a short field at the 35 on their opening possession. On his second attempt, Pino kicked to the 17, where Terrance Davis-Bryant fielded and returned to the 36, again giving OSU great field position if not for a block in the back call against the Cowboys. Pino's third kickoff sailed to the nine and the coverage team swamped return man Marcus Jones at the 18. After the Horns took a 17-10 lead mid-way through the second quarter, Pino kicked high and short to the 19 and Davis-Bryant busted loose for 24 yards to the 43 with the help of several Texas missed tackles. Fortunately for the Horns, the defense by this time had stiffened and the Oklahoma State O couldn't take advantage of the near-midfield spot, but against better offenses (which Colorado is one), that type of kick coverage is essentially giving the opponent a field goal along with an excellent shot at a TD. The kick coverage, if not the actual kickoffs, would get better, briefly, before it got worse. After the O drove to a 24-10 lead, Pino sent his kickoff at the 25-second mark of the first half to the 16, where Davis-Bryant mishandled the ball, allowing the coverage team to hit and then Phillip Geiggar to recover the muff, setting up the offense for a quick score that basically sealed the game for the Horns by the half. Pino had one more first half kickoff, this one a line drive that Chris Massey fielded at the 19 and returned 29 yards. Following the break, Pino only kicked off twice, with these ignominious results: a kick to the 16 returned by Davis-Bryant to the 42 (26 yards) and, a kick to the three that Massey returned almost untouched 97 yards for a TD. Let's recap: Pino delivered eight kickoffs to OSU. His deepest effort of the day went to the three (despite the fact that Oklahoma State kicker Cole Farden nailed his three deep kickoff attempts -- he tried to onside another -- into the end zone, to the four, and completely out of the end zone). On average, Pino's kicks traveled to just the 15. Add to that an average return of 31 yards (on the six returns aside from the opener that sailed ob and the muff) for the Cowboys and we're talking one of the worst performances in recent memory for a kickoff team that had been ranked as one of the best in the conference throughout the last season-and-a-half. Dan Smith, who started the first three games of the season but has been out of the lineup for the last three games after pulling a hip flexor muscle in the Houston contest, was scheduled to retake the starting role in Stillwater, but his leg tightened up in pregame warmups. Mack Brown said the position will be thrown open in practice this week in an attempt to find someone, anyone, that is capable of sending kickoffs near or, gasp, into the end zone.

Bradford also gave OSU a scoring opportunity with a, hide you eyes, 13-yard punt from the 23. That boomer gave the Cowboys the ball at the Texas 36, where the D again bailed out the special teams by stopping the OSU offense on a fourth-and-three from the 15. Bradford's other punt, also from deep in Texas territory, traveled a solid 43 yards where the Horns were whistled for a five-yard halo violation. Oklahoma State did not return a UT punt on the day. Bradford averaged just 28 yards on his two punts while OSU punter Scott Elder averaged 39 yards on his four attempts.

The Texas return men had few opportunities on the day, with Ervis Hill taking a kickoff back 21 yards and Nathan Vasher totaling 15 yards on his lone punt return (although there looked to be an uncalled block in the back on the play that could have negated the return). Vasher twice let balls hit well in front of him again, on one grabbing the ball off the bounce and on the other, letting it hit at the 50 and roll all the way to the 31. With Victor Ike remaining in Austin because of bruised ribs, Hill and Vasher stood in deep return.

Dusty Mangum was perfect on the day, hitting six extra points plus a 23-yard field goal. He also executed a quick punt out of a field goal formation. On their first drive of the second half, the Horns drove to the OSU 34 but stalled, lining up for a 51-yard field goal on fourth down. The ball, though, was snapped directly to Mangum, who poked the ball towards the right sideline, where it hit about the 20 and rolled down to the seven yardline.

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