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Cleaning up Special Teams Crucial for OSU’s Big 12 Hopes



Oklahoma State returned victorious from its first conference road game and could have just gone into its bye week resting on coach speak. A win is a win. Just need to score one more than the other guy. We’re already focused on our next opponent.

But those weren’t the type of quotes coming from the 13th-year head coach. He’s got his own dialect. It’s a bit more blunt and a lot less formal. “So, we have to improve in the kicking game,” said Gundy.

That’s an understatement. The Cowboys’ deep-threat place kicker, Matt Ammendola, has been shaky in the short game. An unfortunate fact which was accentuated with both an 18- and a 22-yarder bouncing off the right upright in Lubbock.

But Gundy was more concerned with Ammendola’s job on kickoffs than what drew the ire of OSU fans on Twitter two weeks ago.

When Ammendola took over kickoff duties a year ago, he was an instant upgrade over Ben Grogan. A team 23.4-percent touchback rate turned into 42.7 percent the next year, but that number could still be higher. The Cowboys ranked sixth in the Big 12 in touchback percentage last year and are fifth to-date in 2017. And of the eight kickoffs against Texas Tech, only two were touchbacks.

But it’s not just the touchback rate that needs improvement. It’s where you put the ball when a return is imminent.

“We need to be able to locate our kickoffs better,” Gundy said. “We had too many kickoffs that landed in the middle of the field at the 9, 10, 11, 12-yard line. So we really need to improve on where we’re kicking the ball and how we’re doing it so we don’t stress our coverage units.”

Two of those kick returns burned the Cowboys for 25 and 30 yards and each began Texas Tech scoring drives. The former began a sequence that saw Tech score a touchdown than recover an on-side kick and then score another TD, effectively starting a 14-0 stretch that tied the game in the fourth.

But don’t expect any personnel changes anytime soon despite Oklahoma State’s obvious struggles on field goals and not so obvious ones on kickoffs. Gundy admitted that Ammendola had a “tough day” but is sure he’ll be fine. “Sometimes that happens,” Gundy said.

“We got confidence in him. We’ll put him back out there to kick another one.”

Gundy mentioned on his Cowboy Football Roundup following the Tech game that the coaching staff had “just a little tweak we can put on Ammendola [to] make it work, make it better.”

A missed Heisman opportunity?

The tongue-in-cheek Heisman campaign in support of college football’s most effective punter from last year has been quelled — at least, to this point. And it’s mostly been due lack of reps. Through the first five games of 2016, Zach Sinor put foot to ball 24 times, an average of 4.8 per game. That rate held steady for the season (4.3 per game).

So far in 2017, Sinor has punted it just eight times in five games. Credit that to a more efficient offense. But in those few early attempts, Sinor has only had three end in a fair catch and only one has been downed inside the 20-yard line. Last year, 28 of his 56 punts were downed inside the 20.

To the punt team’s credit, OSU is second nationally with a net of minus-3 punt return yards allowed (one return). The Cowboys’ defense (along with the punt team) also is ranked 25th in starting field position, but its offense is ranks just 111th which is a far cry from where it was the last two years (in the top 40).

Overall, Oklahoma State has just not been good enough on special teams. With such parity in the Big 12 (as Gundy pointed out) and with the Cowboys already one-deep in the loss column, it’s something that needs to be cleaned up. Hopefully, the Cowboys will emerge from their bye week with some answers.

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