The Norman Transcript

November 21, 2012

Pokes have special way to score

By Jeff Latzke
The Associated Press

STILLWATER — After blocking a punt for the first time in his career, Oklahoma State’s Zack Craig was a bit surprised when he was asked to try for another in the same game. He was even more shocked when he turned his second block into a touchdown.

“To get in the end zone was just nuts,” said Craig, a third-down linebacker when he’s not serving as the Cowboys’ special teams ace.

Craig’s two-block game was the latest standout performance on special teams for No. 22 Oklahoma State (7-3, 5-2 Big 12) heading into this Saturday’s rivalry game at No. 14 Oklahoma (8-2, 6-1).

The Cowboys have scored special teams touchdowns in three straight games, with Craig’s return following kickoff return scores the previous two weeks by Justin Gilbert and Desmond Roland.

And that’s only the beginning. Quinn Sharp matched his career-best with a 51-yard field goal last week in a 59-21 blowout against Texas Tech, and the Cowboys got a pair of turnovers on special teams the week before that during a 55-34 shootout win against West Virginia.

“Our guys have bought into the plan, and that’s what’s helped,” Sharp said. “We’ve stayed sound in what we were doing. We didn’t make it too complicated, we didn’t try to do too many different things and it’s worked very well for us.”

Despite Roland’s runback against K-State, coach Mike Gundy called the overall special teams performance in the loss “very poor” and it spurred a turnaround at a program that takes the kicking game seriously. The Cowboys were one of the rare college teams with a special teams coordinator until Joe DeForest left after 11 seasons to become West Virginia’s defensive coordinator.

Even then, Gundy plucked Ty Linder away from Texas Tech and made him a special teams coordinator as a graduate assistant.

“We’ve gotten much better,” Gundy said. “The players have bought into the system and our game plan each week, and it comes down to them. They have to want to do it and we have to put them in that position.”

The Cowboys got two key turnovers on special teams in the West Virginia game. The first came when a bouncing kick went off the helmet of the Mountaineers’ Andrew Buie.

Even more crucial was Teddy Johnson’s recovery after Tavon Austin couldn’t get out of the way when Sharp’s punt bounded sideways with the Cowboys leading 31-24 in the third quarter. OSU converted the possession into a touchdown and held on for the win.

On Saturday night against Texas Tech, six of the Cowboys’ 10 kickoffs went for touchbacks and the Red Raiders started with even worse field position the other four times. Their lone punt return went for three yards.

“Coming up with big plays on special teams like that each week, it’s so much momentum in a game. It just helps overall in the long run,” said Sharp, who averages the most field goals in the country and would be in the top 10 in punting average if the Cowboys punted frequently enough for him to qualify.

Craig’s two blocked punts marked the first time Oklahoma State had multiple blocks in the same game since the Kansas game two years ago.

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