Special-teams efforts carry TU
BY MIKE AVERILL World Staff Writer
Sunday, December 02, 2012
12/02/12 at 6:30 AM
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From the first play to the defense's final play in overtime, the University of Tulsa's special-teams unit made perhaps the biggest difference in the Hurricane's 33-27 overtime win over Central Florida in the Conference USA championship game.
One of the most important special-teams plays came in the fourth quarter on a UCF punt. After the ball bounced on a short kick, the Knights' Kemal Ishmael batted the ball trying to give it extra distance. While the UCF players thought the play was dead, TU's Trey Watts scooped it up and ran 54 yards down the sideline for a touchdown to tie the game 27-27.
By rule, if a member of the coverage unit touches a punt after it crosses the line of scrimmage, the return team is able to advance the ball.
"Once they touched the ball there's really no harm/no foul for us. Even if he ran and we fumbled it would go back to the original touching if we wanted it to," said TU head coach Bill Blankenship.
Knowing that rule, Watts was quick to grab the ball and go.
"Coach (Scott) Downing talks about that in special teams meetings all the time. I was just thinking to get as many yards as possible," Watts said.
Watts was aided on the carry by a block from freshman wide receiver Derek Patterson, who too thought the play was over and was walking back to the sideline before making the block.
"Derek is one of our guys - there's a group on special teams that are guys that don't play much and they've had a really solid year," Blankenship said.
Special teams also accounted for two blocked kicks and a fumble recovery.
On the opening kickoff, TU's Michael Mudoh stripped the ball from Quincy McDuffie and recovered the fumble.
In the third quarter, TU's Trent Martin blocked a UCF extra point and Marco Nelson almost ran it back for two points.
"They made plays," Blankenship said. "We get a great block and I would almost bet the house that Marco would have run it in (but the defender) makes a great diving tackle."
The unit also blocked a field goal on the Knights' first possession of overtime.
TU would score on its first overtime possession and win 33-27.
The special-teams unit wasn't perfect, however, and hasn't been all year.
Freshman kicker Daniel Schwarz had a PAT blocked - his seventh missed point-after of the season - and punter Cole Way had one punt of 5 yards and another of 18, thanks to winds gusting at nearly 40 mph.
"Special teams has been an adventure, to say the least, mostly from what we've had to deal with from our young kickers," Blankenship said. "But the cover teams, the blocking teams, all that has been solid all year and they played extremely well."
And in the end, the special-teams unit came up with enough plays to help sway the game.
"We've had some crazy things happen on special teams but today was a really good day," Blankenship said.
Original Print Headline: Special teams carry TU
Mike Averill 918-581-4849