BY GINA MIZELL, Staff Writer, email@example.com
STILLWATER — Coming into the 2013 season, the player Oklahoma State would arguably have the most difficult time replacing was Quinn Sharp, the versatile triple threat who handled field goal, punting and kickoff duties for the Cowboys and became the two-time Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year.
How much OSU misses Sharp was certainly apparent in Saturday's surprising loss to West Virginia, where kicker Ben Grogan missed two field goals, including a key 23-yarder that would have tied the game in the fourth quarter, while Kip Smith had punts that went for 16 and 13 yards. After the game, coach Mike Gundy openly characterized the overall performance of the kicking game as poor.
Is it time to make a switch at either position? Smith, after all, started his college career as a kicker, winning that job as a redshirt freshman for UCLA during fall camp in 2011 before a serious leg injury ended his season after two games. And Michael Reichenstein, a senior, is another punter on the roster.
Not yet, says Gundy. The coach assured during his Sunday evening media teleconference that both Grogan's and Smith's jobs are secure right now.
“We have made the decision on who those guys are at this point,” Gundy said, “and we have to instill confidence in them and expect them to go out and make plays.
“We certainly have to get better. Don't get me wrong, because we have always been very sound in our kicking game. But we're behind those guys 100 percent right now and we'll show them support and we expect them to work hard to get better.”
Still, let's evaluate how the Cowboys have fared through four games in the task to fill Sharp's old roles.
Kicker: Ben Grogan
Grogan is just 1-of-4 on field goal attempts this season, with his only make coming from 39 yards in a no-pressure situation against Lamar. Two of his misses were from 44 and 49 yards, but the latter attempt, which came late in the first half against Mississippi State, was so low that it was blocked and nearly returned for a touchdown. And clanking a chip shot off the right upright in a crucial situation is inexcusable, even for a true freshman.
Punter: Kip Smith
Smith was excellent against Mississippi State, averaging 45.2 yards per punt and plopping four of six inside the 20-yard line. He's been inconsistent ever since, which is most apparent in his performance against West Virginia. He tallied punts of 50, 48, 46 and 43 yards in that game, but the 16- and 13-yarders put the OSU defense in a bad spot and ultimately led to Mountaineer points.
Kickoffs: Kip Smith
Sharp's job was to boom those kicks to — or through — the end zone. The Cowboys are clearly trying to have Smith kick the ball sky high, forcing a return and helping the coverage unit. It's worked a bunch so far, as OSU leads the Big 12 and ranks 10th in the nation in kickoff return defense (17.32 yards allowed per return). For example, the kickoff return to start the second half against West Virginia went to the three, and Ronald Carswell was dropped there.