STILLWATER — When longtime Oklahoma State assistant coach Joe DeForest departed Stillwater to become the defensive coordinator at West Virginia, arguably the biggest void he left was his role as the Cowboys' special teams coordinator.
OSU had a history of strong weapons under DeForest, including punters and kickers such as Matt Fodge and Dan Bailey and returners like Perrish Cox and Dez Bryant. Two recent standouts, punter/kicker Quinn Sharp and kick returner Justin Gilbert, were back in 2012.
And instead of giving the special teams coordinator responsibilities to one of the OSU assistants, coach Mike Gundy assigned the largest bulk of those duties to graduate assistant Ty Linder, who had previously concentrated on special teams as a grad assistant at Texas Tech. Additionally, certain assistant coaches focused on specific areas of special teams, and Gundy was also involved in the overall picture.
How did the first season using that arrangement go? Let's examine each component of special teams:
Net punting: 40.02 yards per punt (No. 13 nationally)
Field goals: 80.6 percent accuracy (No. 27 nationally)
Sharp was, of course, exceptional again for the Cowboys.
He was named the Big 12 co-Special Teams Player of the Year (an honor he took by himself last season) and an All-American by the American Football Coaches Association and the Walter Camp Football Foundation after leading the nation in field goals (2.08 per game) and ranking second in scoring (11.7 points per game).
Kickoff returns: 25.28 yards per return (No. 13 nationally), two touchdowns
Punt returns: 9.97 yards per return (No. 43 nationally), zero touchdowns
The new kickoff rule obviously affected all returners, including Gilbert. He did show off his impressive burst and acceleration when he took a kickoff to the house against West Virginia, and he finished in the top 25 in the nation in yards per return (26.40).
While returning more kicks this season (30) than last (26), Gilbert was solid, but not quite the same threat he was the previous two years. That was part rule change, part blockers and part Gilbert himself.