NORMAN — The crowd noise began to heighten during the 20 seconds that ticked off the clock.
By the time Ryan Broyles slowed to a walk into the end zone, the announcer shouted, “Oh, Mama. Touchdown, Sooners.”
The Oklahoma star had just completed an 87-yard punt return in the 2009 Bedlam football game in Norman.
Two-plus seasons and 70 returns since the Sooners returned a punt for a touchdown, Broyles is now a Detroit Lion. And for the first time since his freshman season of 2008, the Sooners were about to start a season without an experienced hand to field punts.
Then, one dropped out of the sky.
Justin Brown's punt returning skills rank behind his receiving talents on the list of most important ways the Penn State transfer will help the Sooners. But they're still significant.
Not since Antonio Perkins set an NCAA record with three punt-return touchdowns in one game against UCLA have the Sooners had a game-breaker in that spot. Broyles was an All-Big 12 punt returner in 2009, but his dependability was more important than the threat of a big play. He averaged 11.0 yards on 107 career returns, which rank third in OU history behind Perkins (113) and Jarrail Jackson (126).
Enter Brown, another reliable, experienced — if not entirely explosive — hand.
This week, coach Bob Stoops announced the senior will return punts.
Brown returned 42 the last three seasons, averaging 7.0 yards. OU's next most experienced returner: Kenny Stills (6.0 yards on nine career returns).
“I'm not here to be the face,” Brown said. “I'm here to contribute. If that's where they say I can help out, that's what I'm going to do.”
There's some reason to believe he could do more than just help out.
When word surfaced last month that Brown was considering a transfer to Oklahoma, hits soared on a YouTube video of his 93-yard punt return for a touchdown against Houston in the TicketCity Bowl. The video ends without mention of this: officials ruled Brown had stepped out of bounds, shortening the return to 26 yards.
“Almost,” Brown said. “Definitely learned from that. Hopefully I don't run that close to the sideline when we get in that situation again.”
Brown's 69-yard touchdown reception and that return were about the only bright spots that day in Penn State's 30-14 loss to Houston — Brown's last game in a Nittany Lions uniform.
Still, his career-long was a 33-yarder in Penn State's regular-season finale against Wisconsin, so the Sooners search for a game-breaking returner continues.
But Brown's size — 6-foot-3, 209 pounds — can be a plus in returning punts.
“When you can bring a guy in that can play receiver and can punt return at that size, it's kind of unusual,” said Jay Norvell, OU's co-offensive coordinator and receivers coach. “He's definitely a sure-handed guy and a guy that's played in a lot of situations and it's just good to have that on your team.
“He gives everybody else confidence, and as a coaching staff, we feel good about it because he's been in those situations before, he's not brand new.”