The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Sports

November 20, 2012

Special teams give OSU lift

STILLWATER Okla. — After blocking a punt for the first time in his career, Oklahoma State’s Zack Craig was a bit surprised when he was asked to try for another in the same game. He was even more shocked when he turned his second block into a touchdown.

“To get in the end zone was just nuts,” said Craig, a third-down linebacker when he’s not serving as the Cowboys’ special teams ace.

Craig’s two-block game was the latest standout performance on special teams for No. 22 Oklahoma State (7-3, 5-2 Big 12) heading into this Saturday’s rivalry game at No. 14 Okla-homa (8-2, 6-1).

The Cowboys have scored special teams touchdowns in three straight games, with Craig’s return following kickoff return scores the previous two weeks by Justin Gilbert and Desmond Roland.

And that’s only the beginning. Quinn Sharp matched his career-best with a 51-yard field goal last week in a 59-21 blowout against Texas Tech, and the Cowboys got a pair of turnovers on special teams the week before that during a 55-34 shootout win against West Virginia.

“Our guys have bought into the plan, and that’s what’s helped,” Sharp said. “We’ve stayed sound in what we were doing. We didn’t make it too complicated, we didn’t try to do too many different things and it’s worked very well for us.”

Despite Roland’s runback against K-State, coach Mike Gundy called the overall special teams performance in the loss “very poor” and it spurred a turnaround at a program that takes the kicking game seriously. The Cowboys were one of the rare college teams with a special teams coordinator until Joe DeForest left after 11 seasons to become West Virginia’s defensive coordinator.

Even then, Gundy plucked Ty Linder away from Texas Tech and made him a special teams coordinator as a graduate assistant.

“We’ve gotten much better,” Gundy said. “The players have bought into the system and our game plan each week, and it comes down to them. They have to want to do it, and we have to put them in that position.”

The Cowboys got two key turnovers on special teams in the West Virginia game. The first came when a bouncing kick went off the helmet of the Mountaineers’ Andrew Buie.

Even more crucial was Teddy Johnson’s recovery after Tavon Austin couldn’t get out of the way when Sharp’s punt bounded sideways with the Cowboys leading 31-24 in the third quarter. OSU converted the possession into a touchdown and held on for the win.

On Saturday night against Texas Tech, six of the Cowboys’ 10 kickoffs went for touchbacks and the Red Raiders started with even worse field position the other four times. Their lone punt return went for three yards.

That meant all the big plays on special teams went in Oklahoma State’s favor.

“Coming up with big plays on special teams like that each week, it’s so much momentum in a game. It just helps overall in the long run,” said Sharp, who averages the most field goals in the country and would be in the top 10 in punting average if the Cowboys punted frequently enough for him to qualify.

Craig’s two blocked punts marked the first time Oklahoma State had multiple blocks in the same game since the Kansas game two years ago, and they came as part of careful planning by Oklahoma State.

The Red Raiders’ punt formation relied on three blockers in a center shield protecting punter Ryan Erxleben, and Craig said he’d been frustrated during practice because he was unsuccessful trying to come across the punter for a block. Gundy and Linder suggested he run past the punter and simply reach his hands toward the ball as he went by.

“The first time I tried it in practice, I blocked it,” said Craig, who included a series of blocked punts and PATs in the game tape that helped him get recruited to OSU.

For it to pay off in a game was even better. The Cowboys led 21-7 at the time and got a touchdown four plays later to break the game open.

“That was awesome for us. We practiced that all week and we thought had a chance of getting one,” Sharp said. “We thought that their operation time was a little slower than most people’s, and their punter, I don’t think he did a very good job of staying inside the shield.”

Craig used a similar technique to get around the shield for the second block, which led to the touchdown.

“Blocking two punts is hard to do in one game, or even a season,” Gundy said. “But Zack likes to play football, it’s important to him and he worked hard and studied tape and it paid off for him.”

1
Text Only
Sports
  • Moving In? Indoor football coming back to Enid?

    Oklahoma City businessman Antwone Taulton and Enid Enforcers manager Mark Timberlake are in the early stages of a plan they hope will see the return of arena football in 2015 to Enid after an absence of more than 10 years. And if things progress as one league executive expects, an official announcement could be forthcoming in the near future.

    July 29, 2014 2 Photos

  • Morris Claiborne Claiborne wants to prove worth to Dallas

    Morris Claiborne had already told reporters he was ready to prove he was worthy of Dallas’ dramatic move up the draft board to get him with the sixth overall pick in 2012. He didn’t waste any time showing some urgency.

    July 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • Tim Tebow NCAA settles head-injury suit, will change rules

    The NCAA agreed on Tuesday to help athletes with head injuries in a proposed settlement of a class-action lawsuit that college sports’ governing body touted as a major step forward but that critics say doesn’t go nearly far enough.

    July 29, 2014 2 Photos

  • Attorney: OU's Mixon acted in self defense

    The attorney for Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon said the incident that left a 20-year-old female OU student with multiple facial fractures was a case of self-defense.

    July 29, 2014

  • OSU no longer faces APR restrictions

    NCAA officials say Oklahoma State’s football program no longer faces restrictions for the upcoming school year because its Academic Progress Rate has been amended.

    July 29, 2014

  • Radio-TV for 7-30-14

    July 29, 2014

  • Jeff Mullin mug 2012.jpg Rice's punishment hardly fit the crime

    Two games, just over 12 percent of the 16-game regular season. Two games for hitting a woman hard enough to knock her out cold.
    Rice said Monday he will not appeal his suspension, which could wind up costing him $529,411 in fines and salary. And why wouldn’t he? He must feel like he got off scot-free.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • SamBradfordpicturejpeg Bradford used to being at 'career crossroads'

    It’s become a rite of training camp for Sam Bradford.
    Every summer, he deals with the oversized burden of living up to getting picked first overall in 2010. The St. Louis Rams quarterback is not surprised that once again, he’s supposedly at a career crossroads.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • TU wins C-USA academic honor

    The University of Tulsa earned the 2013-14 Conference USA Institutional Excellence award by posting the highest grade point average during the 2013-14 academic year for all student athletes in conference-sponsored athletes, the school announced on Monday.

    July 28, 2014

  • Hixon added to West All-State football team

    July 28, 2014

Click here for NASCAR headlines
Sports Photos


Enid News & Eagle sports photos from the month of February 2014. Enjoy all the ENE photos with full access at http://enidnews.smugmug.com.