November 08, 2012
Cowboy fans are well aware of the weapon that Quinn Sharp represents on special teams. Until this season, Sharp's ability to kick the ball out of the endzone was unrivaled in college football. In 2011, Quinn led all kickers with 61 touchbacks — 21 more than the closest competition. In 2012, despite being on pace to kick 82 touchbacks (!!), Quinn is currently trailing Jeff Locke of UCLA in both total touchbacks* and touchback percentage. Texas A&M's Taylor Bertolet is a close third and more than a dozen other kickers are kicking touchbacks at a rate exceeding Sharps' 2011 campaign. As evidenced by the increasing competition (and just as the rules-committee envisioned) more kickoffs are reaching the endzone and more return teams are opting to take a knee. Yet despite the increase in touchbacks, Oklahoma State's kickoff coverage has been noticeably poor in 2012. Excluding the Savannah State game**, Oklahoma State has allowed 13 returns for 410 yards - an average of just over 37 yards per return. In the losses to UT and KSU, return yards per attempt jump to 60 and 50 respectively. Which begs the question: if, during warmups, Quinn is having difficulty kicking the ball into the stands (whether due to wind, humidity, leg fatigue, whatever), why not opt to kick the ball towards the corner of the field and risk the possibility of kicking the ball out of bounds? Not only does a directional kick afford the coverage a better chance against a big return, it would also improve the average starting field position of returned kicks by 2 yards should the kick go out of bounds. Kansas State took this approach last week and twice allowed the Cowboys to start at the 35 yard line due to an out of bounds kick. Clearly, Bill Snyder understands the Sharpe Ratio. In the return game, risk vs. return sometimes comes down to not risking a return.
West Virginia's Tavon Austin is a dangerous return man who can quickly change a game's momentum. It is time for the OSU kickoff coverage to stop playing with fire and bow to the law of averages. This armchair-special-teams-czar-in-chief has spoken: Intentionally kick the ball out of bounds against WVU and give the defense a chance.