On Nov. 10, 2007, DeMarco Murray returned a kickoff 91 yards for a touchdown. That’s OU’s last kickoff return for a touchdown.
Here’s how long is the drought. Since that night, I personally have seen Texas return four kickoffs for touchdowns. I only see the Longhorns play twice a year. I’ve seen every OU-Texas and OSU-Texas game since that 2007 OU-Baylor game. So that’s nine Longhorn games I’ve seen.And I’ve seen four Texas kickoff returns for a touchdown. D.J. Monroe returned a kickoff for a touchdown against OSU on Sept. 29. Foswhitt Whittaker returned kickoffs for touchdowns against both OU and OSU last season. In 2008, Jordan Shipley returned a kickoff 96 yards for a TD against OU (remember that one, Sooner fans?).
All told, starting with the 2008 season, Texas has returned seven kickoffs for touchdowns. OU zero. Thus a huge advantage for the Longhorns in the Cotton Bowl on Saturday.
Bob Stoops has expressed satisfaction with his kickoff game. OU is averaging 24.6 yards per return, though that’s just eight kick returns, with the slew of touchbacks we now have in college football. Opponents are averaging 19.4 yards per return, with no touchdowns.
Texas is averaging 26.5 yards on 15 returns. The Longhorns are allowing 20.4 yards on 27 returns. So OU and Texas are similar on production, with the Longhorns having the huge edge of the touchdown that helped UT beat OSU.
But conversely, OU has a big edge in kicking. That’s a huge turn from recent years. But Michael Hunnicut has become a solid foot for the Sooners. He’s five of six on field goals, with the only miss coming at Texas-El Paso when holder Tress Way dropped the snap. Hunnicut a year ago was 21 of 24 on field goals and was solid from long distance — 4-of-4 last season from 40 yards or longer.
Meanwhile, Texas has been sporadic. The Longhorns are 4-of-9 on field goals this season. Nick Jordan is 3-of-7 and Penn State transfer Anthony Fera is 1-of-2, including a 41-yard miss with five minutes left that would have tied the game. Fera made a 38-yarder against West Virginia. Jordan made a 38-yarder against New Mexico.
But it’s an interesting question. Which would you rather be. The team with the better kicker, a clear advantage on field goal accuracy? Or the team with the home run ability on kickoff returns, which Texas clearly has and OU does not?
The truth is, field goals aren’t as important as they once were in college football. When teams are scoring four, five, six touchdowns, field goals lose their value. West Virginia’s 70-63 epic over Baylor? Three missed field goals in that game, none made.
Time was, OU-Texas was a field goal game. Tony DiRienzo’s field goal won the 1974 game for OU. R.D. Lashar’s miss in 1990 lost it for the Sooners. As recently as 2009, Texas won because it had a good kicker, Justin Tucker, and OU stunk on field goals. But I might take a kickoff returner over a kicker. In 2008, Texas trailed OU 14-3 when Shipley returned that kickoff for a touchdown, igniting the Longhorns when they looked listless. Texas won 45-35. In Stillwater last month, Monroe’s kickoff return gave UT a 21-14 lead in an eventual 41-36 victory.