STILLWATER Things have gotten so distressing around Oklahoma State's kickoff coverage team that Cowboys coaches aren't asking for volunteers, yet getting them just the same.
OSU, which ranks 119th among 120 teams in kickoff coverage, surrendered its third return for a touchdown Saturday against Nebraska. Now the Cowboys head to Kansas State, where the Wildcats are the nation's leader in return yardage, with William Powell averaging 34.06 yards per return. Powell took one back 100 yards for a touchdown a week ago at Baylor.
Maybe that's why senior linebacker Orie Lemon sent a text message to coach Mike Gundy earlier this week, offering his services.
"Hey coach, I'll cover. I'll be a kickoff guy. I'll get it done," wrote in the text.
Lemon's services, however, are needed elsewhere.
"I appreciate that," Gundy said, "but I'm not putting him on there. We don't have that luxury. We've got to put somebody out there. And I'm not going to put my defensive starters our there. I'm just not going to do it.
"That's a decision I have to make."
And it's not a decision Gundy or special teams coach Joe DeForest takes lightly.
But for all the concerns over OSU's kickoff coverage, externally and internally, the Cowboys are caught in somewhat of a Catch-22.
Help is clearly needed. Yet there's no available help.
Five factors affecting OSU's kickoff coverage:
1. Missing Persons: OSU bid farewell to one of the largest senior classes in history last year, turning over a roster that is heavily weighted toward freshmen (true and redshirt) and sophomores. Key injuries have also robbed the Cowboys of experienced special teams candidates, including safeties Victor Johnson and Daytawion Lowe.
"They were on every unit," DeForest said.
Linebackers LeRon Furr and Kenny Alexander were other candidates lost to injury.
2. Finding Fits: Special teams coaches want primarily defenders - they're used to hitting and tackling - with speed for kickoff coverage. DeForest prefers fast linebackers and safeties and cornerbacks. And he prefers backups, with starters already putting in a heavy workload on defense.