NORMAN — Teammates are elated when Tress Way has minimal impact on games. If Oklahoma's punter isn't playing much, it usually means the Sooners are scoring a ton of points.
This season, traditional punting statistics don't tell the entire story. Way is among the national leaders with 33 punts downed inside the 20-yard line.
“He has a good feel for the trajectory doing that,” said OU coach Bob Stoops. “He's worked really hard on his technique. And our guys have done a really good job going down and fielding it. It really makes a big difference when you pin a team back.”
Way's overall stats are down. He's averaging a career low 41.2 yards per punt.
His major contribution has been after the offense stalls around midfield. Booming a 50-yarder into the end zone would boost his average, but he's embraced the challenge of helping the Sooners win the field position battle.
“I've really focused on it, worked hard at it,” Way said. “Making a team start at the 20 is one thing. But if you can make them start at the 5-, the 7- or the 10-(yard line) is huge if you make them go 90 yards or more.”
Way has been so efficient, his first touchback all season was against Texas A&M, nine games into the season.
Teammates have assisted Way's remarkable “punts downed inside-the-20” season.
Wide receiver Jaz Reynolds suffered a bruised kidney against Oklahoma State. He will miss next week's Insight Bowl against Iowa, but Reynolds made a habit of tapping Way on the helmet before the punt coverage unit took the field.
“Jaz often tells me, ‘Just hit it up high and I'll get down there,'” Way said. “Kicking is only part of it. Those guys have made some great plays. I love it when I can kill it. But I also love the pooch punts. It's pretty cool with what we've been doing.”
A pooch punt isn't as simple as “taking a little off.” Ask any golfer facing a 70-yard shot to the green.
When rare opportunities arise where Way can blast a punt, he has to remind himself to stay disciplined.
“There have been a couple I tried to kill it (with mixed results),” Way said. “Coach Stoops turns it into his golf game. He says even (defensive ends coach) Bobby Jack Wright can't outdrive him when he tries to kill his drive. He reminds me I have a strong leg, just hit it smooth.”
Another factor in Way's average being slightly down is he's attempted only 57 punts after compiling 134 punts his freshmen and sophomore seasons.
“Against Texas I told (kicker) Michael Hunnicutt, ‘I honestly don't think I'll play today,'” Way said. “You've seen it when our offense gets on a roll. There's nothing stopping them. When you're not punting, it's actually relaxing because we're usually way ahead.”
Kickers and punters are unique. They essentially practice on their own. Most of the game they're standing on the sidelines watching the offense and defense participate in approximately 170 combined plays.
Does it getting boring?
“Not really. You're into the game,” Way said. “Now that it's getting colder I try not to get too tight. I'm constantly playing catch with somebody, talking, moving, jogging. I probably look weird sometimes on the sidelines but I have to stay loose.”
Downing punts inside the 20-yard line isn't a sexy stat, but it's an element of the game appreciated by coaches and teammates.
“It changes an offense's mindset on what they want to do or how careful they are with the ball,” Stoops said. “And if you stop them usually it sets you up with good field position. It can make a big difference.”