Holiday Bowl notes and analysis: special teams

Notes and analysis on the Horns' special teams performance in their 47-43 win over Washington in the Holiday Bowl:

Over the final weeks of the season, Brian Bradford emerged as a consistently solid punter for the Horns. Bradford punted four times in the Holiday Bowl, averaging 40.3 yards per punt, including a high, booming 47-yarder in the second quarter. His shortest punt of the day -- a first quarter 28-yarder -- pinned Washington at its 11. His only disappointment of the day came in the fourth quarter, when punting from the Husky 49 he sent the ball into the end zone for a touchback rather than out of bounds inside the 20. Bradford will be a senior next season, and if he continues to punt like he did down the stretch, the position should be set heading into next fall. Dusty Mangum also executed a perfect pooch punt out of a field goal formation that angled out of bounds at the nine. The Huskies returned just one Texas punt, a 12-yarder by Charles Frederick.

The same can't even remotely be said about the kickoff spot, which again faltered in San Diego. Dan Smith kicked off seven times, bookended at the beginning and end of the game by kicks by David Pino. True freshman Pino's game opening kickoff traveled all the way to the four (extremely deep, relatively speaking), while his final effort, after the Horns had taken a 47-43 lead, went to just the 25 on a pooch kick, allowing UW great field position (the 42) on its final, thankfully unsuccessful desperation drive. Smith's seven kicks went to the 18, 11, nine, 11, into the end zone (!), 10 and 12. For comparison's sake, Washington's kickers sent the ball into the end zone for touchbacks on four of eight attempts. Given the poor kickoffs, the Horns' kick coverage was adequate solid after the opening kick. Missed tackles allowed Husky return man Roc Alexander to return Pino's opening kickoff all the way to the 43, a 39-yard effort. Frederick also turned in a 26-yard return of a Smith offering mid-way through the third quarter. Overall, Washington averaged a slightly high 17.5 yards per return and starting field position at the 29.

Mangum banged his first field goal attempt, a 35-yarder late in the first quarter, off the left upright but he nailed his other two tries, 26- and 24-yarders in the third quarter. He also made all five of his extra point attempts. Like Bradford, Mangum is solid and with his game experience, should enter spring and probably fall as the No. 1 field goal kicker in the Orange and White.

Sophomore Nathan Vasher totaled just nine yards on his two punt returns. Junior Victor Ike had a 16-yard return and senior Ervis Hill returned two for 54 total yards. After a strong season, Vasher is entrenched at the punt return spot, and Ike probably will remain one of the two deep return men on kickoffs, but spring and fall will determine who takes Hill's place. Ivan Williams, who held the spot last season and during the early part of this season, is a possibility along with a slew of the Horns' youngsters.


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