By Nick Snow
CNHI News Service
STILLWATER — There’s a reason why special teams are called just that — special.
Offenses and defense get most of the credit, but sometimes it’s the special teams that can be the difference between winning and losing — a lesson the Oklahoma State University football team learned the hard way against Kansas State last week.
“I don’t know we should have won, but I think that we could win,” Oklahoma State kicker Quinn Sharp said. “We had a chance to win. We just did not help our defense out on special teams. We got outschemed. ... Those kind of mistakes are pretty correctible. We’ll come out with a better game plan this week and just execute better.”
Execution will be crucial for the Cowboys when they face West Virginia and one of the most dangerous return men in the conference, Tavon Austin. The West Virginia senior is leading the Big 12 with an average of 35.6 yards per kickoff return and second in the conference with an average of 11.7 yards per punt return.
“We can’t stress any more than what we faced during the week,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. “That’s why I’m expressing some disappointment. I was disappointed after the game, I was disappointed yesterday and I’m disappointed today. ... The guy we played last week is really good. This guy is a different really good. There’s times he gets big returns, and he doesn’t even go where they blocked it. He’s special. He reminds me of Perrish Cox.”
“They’re just as dangerous as Kansas State’s Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson,” Sharp said. “They have Tavon Austin back there and he's just as fast as those guys, so we have to come prepared and take care of business.”
Stopping Austin will be easier said than done, Sharp said.
“You just have to try to keep it out of his hands,” Sharp said. “You have to be able to get touchbacks and limit the ways he can beat you. If we can’t get those touchbacks, we have to fit in the right gaps and make sure that he can’t get a big return.”
Making things even tougher for Oklahoma State, the West Virginia coaching staff is very familiar with how the Cowboys run their special teams. In fact, last season current West Virginia defensive coordinator Joe DeForest was coaching Sharp on special teams.
“I don’t know if Joe or anyone else on their staff has an advantage over us because of their time here,” Oklahoma State co-defensive coordinator Bill Young said. “They do know how we like to run things, but at the same time we know how they like to run things. That’s what’s so fun about going up against coaches you know. It becomes a chess match where you try to outwit the other guy.”
Some areas of the special teams may have been a struggle against Kansas State, but it hasn’t been all bad for the Cowboys the past few weeks.
Sharp is 8 of 8 on field goals in the last two games — including tying a school record with five field goals against Iowa State. He also leads the Big 12 in punting with an average of 46 yards per punt.
“We’ve definitely had our ups and downs on special teams this year,” Sharp said. “But I feel like we have been doing a lot better on punt returns and kick returns. We only allowed one big punt return against Kansas State. We just have to practice it and kick the ball to the corners.”