Special mistakes: Longhorn special teams proving to be huge weakness

Stefan Scrafield

The Longhorn special teams have been far from special in 2014.

A bad punt and poor coverage led to the game-winning drive for UCLA in Arlington, a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown swung the momentum against Baylor and a kick return touchdown and a boneheaded kick catch interference penalty proved to be the difference against Oklahoma.

The unit has displayed a knack for giving up the big play this season, as special teams have been the driving force behind three of the Longhorns’ four losses this year. 

“We just have people not doing their jobs, plain and simple,” senior defensive back Quandre Diggs said. “Those guys are hearing about it, and I hope they want to fix it this week. We’re going to continue to work on it and continue to get better because it’s definitely not up to par right now.”

Big plays aside, Texas’ special teams have consistently disappointed throughout the first half of the season.

Junior kicker Nick Rose has missed a field goal in four of Texas’ six contests, converting just five of his nine field goal attempts on the year, and even missed an extra point attempt.

Longhorn kick returners haven’t been able to get anything going either, ranking 108th in the nation with an average of just 18.4 yards per return. Maybe touchbacks aren’t so bad after all.

Not to be outdone, Texas’ kick coverage unit ranks 128th — dead last in the country. Opponents are averaging 32.3 yards on kickoff returns, including sophomore Alex Ross’ 91-yard run back for the Sooners last weekend.

On the whole, Texas’ special teams give up an average of 3.9 points per game, fifth worst in the nation, according to Football Outsiders’ special teams efficiency rankings, which take into account each aspect of special teams and measures them in terms of points per game.

“It’s very frustrating,” said Diggs, who has spent time as a punt returner during his career at Texas. “It’s not like it’s not being harped on in meetings. It’s just got to take it to heart and go out and get better effort on it.”

Fatigue may be at the heart of the issue for the Longhorns.

Head coach Charlie Strong prefers to have his best 11 men on the field on special teams, which forces starters from offense and defense into double duty, rather than resting them on the sidelines.

“Some of the starters, I don’t think they take it for granted or anything, but they do play a lot of snaps, and they get tired,” said senior receiver John Harris, who is on the punt return team. “But that’s no excuse. Special teams plays a huge part in the game, as you can see.”

The Longhorn defense is stout — one of the best units in the nation. The offense has been inconsistent, but they are slowly improving. But the specials teams are bad and don’t appear to be getting any better.

No matter how well the rest of the team plays, Texas will continue to lose more often than it wins, if it can’t be effective in all three aspects of the game.

“What needs to happen and what guys have to understand — you don’t take a play off with special teams,” Strong said. “We have offense, we have defense [and] we have special teams — and that’s not the time to take a play off.”