I didn't want to write this portion of the preview at all, but the Iowa State game punt block and forced fumble on the kickoff provided some hope.
The history of this series is replete with game-changing plays on special teams (here are two recent ones: 2008 Shipley kick off return, 2009 Earl Thomas strip on punt returner) and given our underdog status, it's a reasonable assumption that we'll do some things to shake it up in this area to retain the ball, steal an extra possession, or turn 3 into 6.
Let's look at some adjusted statistics and see what it all means.
Oklahoma's special teams break down thusly:
Tress Way is an outstanding punter who has a particular knack for pinning opponents on their end of the field. 12 of his 17 punts this year have been downed inside the opponent's 20. That's a fairly amazing statistic. So ignore his 41.8 average - he has plenty of leg. The Sooners adjusted 39.5 net return defense average (top 1/3 of college football) is even better than the statistics show for that reason. Opponents have only returned 2 punts all season.
The Sooners haven't had success in their punt return game yet (Broyles is averaging less than 4 yards per return), but I think we all know what Broyles is capable of if we make a mistake. We've done a pretty good job of not allowing returns, even if Tucker's punts haven't suggested Ray Guy.
The Sooner kick return game has been completely forgettable with an adjusted return rate that places them at 67th in the country. Their longest return of the season is 29 yards. Unfortunately, our kick coverage is ranked in the 100s. So if they're going to suddenly have success, it should be this weekend. Hopefully, Steve Edmond will knock someone out Jeff Leiding-style.
Patrick O'Hara handles kickoffs and has had touchbacks on 6 of 29 attempts. They've done a good job of covering kicks this year though they've conceded NINE kickoff return touchdowns over the previous three. Even when you factor in that OU's high scoring offenses have forced considerably more kickoffs to opponents than your average team, that's not a statistic OU coaches have on their resumes. However, since we're also ranked in the 100s in kickoff return, I'm not anticipating a Jordan Shipley moment.
Lil' Jimmy Stevens splits with Mike Hunnicutt at field goal kicker. Stevens is 4 of 4 and Hunnicutt is 4 of 5. Hunnicutt has the bigger leg.
After examining OU a little more closely, I feel much better about their return games, but we'll still lose the overall battle for hidden yards when you factor in Way's punting ability and our putrid kick return and coverage metrics. That's unfortunate. Even a couple of Oklahoma possessions started on their 40 yard line or a couple of extra Longhorn possessions started inside our 10 will have a significant game impact that won't fully be captured by the box score. On defense particularly, we need some cushion - a little damper that will allow us to concede some things while we play for 3rd and long or lock in on a tendency.
If Texas wants to win this game, they're going to have to make some special teams plays to affect the outcome. Expect anything.