Punt-protection issues dog Hurricane
BY BILL HAISTEN World Sports Writer
Wednesday, November 28, 2012
11/28/12 at 3:35 AM
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It happened at UAB, it happened against Rice and it happened at SMU - a University of Tulsa punt getting blocked, and the opponent capitalizing with an immediate touchdown.
In spite of giving up cheap TDs, the Golden Hurricane beat UAB by seven points and Rice by four.
And in part because it handed SMU a cheap touchdown last week, TU wound up with a 35-27 defeat.
As Tulsa prepares for its Central Florida rematch - Saturday's 11 a.m., ESPN2-televised Conference USA championship game at H.A. Chapman Stadium - punt-protection breakdowns have become a problem.
"Punt-blocks are brutal," TU coach Bill Blankenship said. "They are game-changing, (whether) you get one or give up one. Three is an alarming thing for us. The first one we had blocked is what I would call a scheme issue. We made some assumptions, and they didn't hold true and (UAB) took advantage of that.
"The two blocks we've had since then have been physical issues - different players have literally not performed their block. That's unacceptable at any position, but it's even more glaring when you're in punt protection."
Four plays after a Cole Way punt was blocked at UAB, Darrin Reaves scored on a 1-yard run for the Blazers.
During the first period of the Rice game, Sam McGuffie rushed untouched from the left edge, blocked Way's punt, collected the loose ball and scored on a 12-yard return.
During the first quarter of the of SMU game, Ja'Gared Davis batted down another Way punt. SMU's Derek Longoria recovered the ball and raced to the TU 3-yard line. On the next play, Zach Line scored and SMU led 7-0.
"It's a sick feeling, for sure," said Way, a 6-foot-8 sophomore.
Because he is focused on Rey Higeura's snap and on executing proper mechanics before the launch of the punt, Way isn't immediately visually aware when his blocking has failed.
"It sounds weird, but you can feel it," he said. "You're just trying to get the punt away as quick as you can."
Is it possible that because of Way's height, his long stride might carry him into a danger zone? Before the snap, he is set at a depth of 15 yards - a yard deeper than most teams position their punter.
"I need to work on shortening my steps - just cut them in half," Way said.
During practice this week, Blankenship said, punt-team execution will be a priority.
"There's a reason ... why we call the punt the most important play in football," Blankenship said. "It's not the most glorious play, but you can change games on the punt team - whether you change the field or (fail) in protection.
"We've had three glaring, critical, game-changing errors. There's going to be a lot of work put on it this week. It doesn't take rocket science to figure out that (UCF) will probably attack us."
C-USA title game
UCF (9-3) at TU (9-3)
11 a.m. Saturday
Radio: KRMG am740, fm102.3
Tulane, ECU leaving C-USA. B5
Original Print Headline: Blocked punts hurt Hurricane
Bill Haisten 918-581-8397
TU punter Cole Way pursues SMU's Derek Longoria after a blocked punt that set up SMU's first touchdown Saturday. TOM GILBERT/Tulsa World
TU's Cole Way punts against Fresno State earlier this season at Chapman Stadium. TOM GILBERT/Tulsa World