Monday's Practice Emphasis: Kickoff Coverage

A Texas score on its final drive at Ohio State would have meant that "we'd be kicking off," head coach Mack Brown said Monday, "and we didn't want to do that."

Get it?

Unfortunately, you do.

It was a tongue-in-cheek remark on the heels of Texas’ 25-22 thriller at Ohio State, but the Longhorns’ woeful kickoff coverage is no laughing matter. The coverage was so "very, very poor" Saturday that Brown’s remark is indicative of the fact that it was better that Texas failed to score on the final series, and thus pin the Buckeyes on the Longhorn one-yard line, than it was to risk a kickoff and the kind of yardage that Brown’s not-so-special coverage team had been surrendering.

You hate to nit-pick following one of the biggest wins in program history and, arguably, the biggest of the Mack Brown era. ("The Rose Bowl was different because it was at the end of the season," Brown said.) With the win in Columbus, the 2005 Longhorns have put themselves in the driver’s seat for the BCS title game, but would have lost that lofty perch if their virtually impregnable defense hadn’t kept bailing out its shoddy KO coverage, giving QB Vince Young one last shot at the game-winning TD with 2:37 remaining.

That’s why the emphasis during Monday’s practice, during a week when Rice comes to town for its annual paycheck, is to fix Texas’ on-going coverage woes.

This is a summary of Texas’ adventure in kickoff coverage at the ‘Shoe:

Ted Ginn, Jr. returns David Pino’s ‘pooch kick’ 18 yards to the OSU 41.

San Antonio Holmes returns Richmond McGee’s kick 36 yards to the OSU 36.

Holmes returns McGee’s kick 47 yards to the OSU 49.

Ginn returns McGee’s kick 18 yards to the OSU 25.

Ginn returns McGee’s kick 46 yards to the OSU 47

Holmes returns McGee’s kick 26 yards to the OSU 31.

Ohio State’s average starting field position on kickoffs alone (i.e., not counting the shortened field following three turnovers) was approximately its own 38.5-yard line.

"They’ve got the two best return people in the country," Brown said, "and they’re going to do that against other people."

It’s just that people have been doing that to Texas long enough, and that’s why Brown is determined to fix the problem by the end of the week.

"This is going to be a huge emphasis for us," he said. "I’m putting my entire defensive staff on this. I’m assigning each coach to a couple of guys. This will be a huge emphasis during Monday’s practice."

It’s just that Brown has been saying that since January 1, when Michigan’s Steve Breaston set a Rose Bowl-record 222 yards in returns. The Wolverines average starting field position was their own 45.

"It should be easy to fix," Brown said. "That’s why it’s been so frustrating."

So, what’s the problem? Typically, it has to do with "one or two guys" busting an assignment, Brown said, but that "it’s usually a different guy" every game.

"Sometimes they’ll run and down and they’re afraid they’ll run by (the ball carrier) and they’ll stop a little soon. Or, another guy doesn’t hold properly and another guy runs by because he should have grabbed him. We’ve just got to continue to work on it."

Brown was asked if McGee was capable of kicking it out of the end zone.

"Well...," Brown hesitated, and then said, "No."

As far as backup PK Greg Johnson?

"Greg has kicked it really high but not out of the end zone," Brown said.

One of the things that players said coaches learned at Arkansas last season, when the crowd noise reached ear-splitting level, was to rely more on hand signals to call plays from the sidelines throughout the game. Likewise, one of the things coaches learned at Ohio State was to apply the same principle on special teams. That lesson was learned on Ramonce Taylor’s near-safety when he barely crossed the plain of the goal line before calling for a touchback in the second quarter. RT could not hear Tarell Brown’s instructions to down the ball in the end zone.

"Tarell told him to stay in," Brown said. "It never occurred to us that he might not be able to hear. After that, we told Tarell to go back and grab him so he would know where he was."

A relaxed Mack Brown joked with the media that he considered labeling it a designed play.

"I was going to tell y’all that it was a one-man reverse," Brown smiled. "(RT) was aware enough to know that he was in trouble. He broke a tackle in the back of the end zone, circled right and then outran the containment guy. I thought for a while he was going to go all the way. It was a 35-yard gain and a great kickoff return."

Saturday’s game vs. Rice is set for 6 p.m. on a Fox Sports Net telecast.

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