A&M game notes and analysis: special teams

Notes and analysis on the Horns' special teams performance in their 21-7 win over A&M:

For at least the second time this season, the Horns' special teams played a major role in winning a game. This time, UT's punt block unit put Texas on the board with a block that resulted in a TD return in the first quarter. Rod Babers easily smothered A&M punter Cody Scates' second attempt of the game and Tony Jeffery, who drew the outside protection, freeing Babers for the block, scooped up the ball and took it in 23 yards for the score. The Horns also got close to at least three of the Aggies' other nine punts. Dakarai Pearson, rushing up the middle, almost got to Scates' first punt attempt on A&M's first possession, but he missed the ball and took the legs out from under Scates, drawing the 15-yard personal foul, roughing the kicker call.

One of the biggest plays of the game, at least in terms of field position, may have been on an Aggie punt attempt in the third quarter that could have been but wasn't blocked. Facing a fourth-and-two at the Texas 44, A&M's Scates, with the wind at his back, perfectly placed his punt inside the 10, where an Aggie coverage man downed the ball at the one yardline. The Ags, though, were flagged for holding on the play, and replays clearly showed a Texas player in position to block Scates' attempt before being pulled to the ground by an A&M blocker just out of arm's reach of the ball coming off Scates' leg. The Aggies, backed up 10 yards because of the holding call, then were whistled for a false start, pushing them back to their own 41 yardline. Scates hit another strong punt, this time a 46-yarder, but return man Nathan Vasher fielded it and brought it back 23 yards. So instead of starting on the one in a tie ballgame, the Horns got the ball at the 36, effectively flipping the field position battle for he remainder of the third.

In the crucial third quarter when Texas drove into the teeth of the wind, Vasher registered returns of 14 and 23 yards. On his three returns on the day, Vasher averaged 14 yards per return. Vasher also did his best job of the season of getting to and catching short punts and not allowing them to roll 10-15 yards as he did early in the season. Duane Akina, the Horns' punt return coach, said Vasher "saved us valuable field position" with his decisions against the Ags. Akina also praised his entire return unit. "It's fun coaching really good players who have bought into the idea that the punt return team can make a big difference in the ballgame," he said.

Brian Bradford, after a shaky start (his first punt went 19 yards with the wind), had another solid game punting the ball. The junior punted 11 times for an average of 31 yards, putting four of those attempts inside the Aggie 20. The punt coverage team did an outstanding job on five of A&M's six returns, limiting the Ags to 11 yards, but the other return set up the hosts with a short field, which they took advantage of for their only TD. After the Horns' opening third quarter three-and-out possession, Bradford hit a strong 36-yard punt into the wind, but A&M return Man Mickey Jones fielded, eluded gunner Michael Ungar and headed for the left sideline. Along the way, Aggie safety Jay Brooks absolutely flattened UT's Mike Jones, clearing the way for Jones' 37-yard return to the Texas 27. A&M put the tying score on the board five plays later. Mike Jones, who had to be helped off the field after the hit by Brooks, returned to the game in the fourth quarter and blocked on Cedric Benson's go-ahead TD.

Dusty Mangum missed his only field goal attempt of the game, a with-the-wind 49-yarder that sailed wide right in the first quarter. The freshman kicker nailed all three of his extra point attempts.

Even aided by the strong wind Friday, the Texas kickers could not get a kickoff into the end zone. David Pino sent the game's opening kickoff to just the five and followed that up with a kick to the three after the Horns' first TD. In the fourth quarter, Pino kicked to the two before Mangum took over for the final kickoff and sent the ball to the 10. The kick coverage unit held the Aggie return men in check, giving up returns of 19, 15, 22 and 24 yards. A&M's average starting field position after the four kickoffs was the 23. Both of the Aggies' kickoffs (with the wind) went into the end zone for a touchback.


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