OSU already has lost one football game in large part because of a kickoff return – D.J. Monroe’s 100-yard return in the second quarter that gave Texas a 21-14 lead en route to a 41-36 victory.
Now to Stillwater comes another superb kick returner, West Virginia’s Tavon Austin on Saturday, a week after the Cowboys gave up another 100-yard return, to Kansas State’s Tylen Lockett. Lockett’s TD didn’t cost OSU the victory — the Wildcats won 44-30 – but it didn’t help.
And that leads to some trouble for OSU. Quinn Sharp has kicked off 59 times this season and produced 47 touchbacks. But two of his 12 non-touchbacks have been returned for touchdowns.
OSU is giving up 33.5 yards per kickoff return, an astounding average. The Cowboys, who against KSU got an 80-yard kickoff return for a TD from Desmond Roland, came into the season believing they would enjoy a huge edge on kickoffs. That hasn’t happened.
Meanwhile, Austin has 16 kickoff returns this season, for a 32.9-yard average. Seven other West Virginia players have combined for 16 more kickoff returns. None have a longer return than 21 yards or a higher average than 17.2 yards.
The mission for Sharp on Saturday is clear. Kick the ball out of the end zone, or kick it to someone besides Tavon Austin.