OU football: Kickoffs the problem on kickoff returns?
Like usual, the subject turned to kickoff coverage Tuesday during Bob Stoops’ weekly press conference. And we might have found a nugget of information on why the Sooners are so susceptible to kickoff return touchdowns.
Fozzy Whittaker’s touchdown return for Texas two weeks ago has renewed interest in the subject; the Sooners have not been good at covering kickoffs for four years now. Check that. The Sooners have been victimized by touchdown returns, though they haven’t been half bad on general coverage. For example, OU ranks fourth in the Big 12 this season, with an average starting point of the 25-yard line for opponents. Texas A&M is the best, 23-yard line, while Texas is the worst, 30-yard line.
But let’s look at what’s happened to the Sooners. They are scoring as much or more than ever before, and doing it in a short amount of time because of the hurryup offense. So that means more kickoffs than ever before. And that is coupled with a kickoff artist, in this case Patrick O’Hara but the problem has been over several years, who does not produce many touchbacks.
OU has kicked off 52 times this season, with seven touchbacks. That’s a percentage of .134, which ranks eighth in the Big 12. Here are the conference statistics: 1. OSU .518; 2. Texas A&M .333; 3. Baylor .326; 4. Iowa State .240; 5. Kansas State .228; 6. Texas Tech .200; 7. Texas .194; 8. OU .134; 9. Missouri 0.75; 10. Kansas .000.
Look at those numbers. OU has seven touchbacks. Baylor has 15, in fewer kickoffs. A&M has 16. OSU has 28. OU has just seven, in 52 kickoffs. That’s 45 kicks that have had to be covered. OSU, meanwhile, has had to cover just 26 kickoffs, even though the Sooners and Cowboys kick off at about the same rate (OSU 54, OU 52).
“In our league for sure, our guy doesn’t kick ‘em out of the end zone much,” Stoops said. “I look at some other teams. They get touchbacks maybe 40 percent of the time.”
That’s a problem. In the Barry Switzer days, seemed like OU got a touchback every time it kicked off with the wind. Now, rarely.
There are other factors. Football in general is full of great returners. OSU sophomore Justin Gilbert already has tied the school record with four touchdowns on kick returns. Texas’ Whittaker ran back kickoffs for TDs on consecutive Saturdays, against OU and OSU. The NFL moved kickoffs up five yards, to the 35-yard line, yet a rash of kicks have been returned for touchdowns in the pros, and Devin Hester might make the Pro Football Hall of Fame for his returns of kicks and punts. OU’s .
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