STILLWATER, Okla. — Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert was the Big 12 Conference special teams player of the week last week after returning a kickoff for a touchdown for the fifth time in his career.
Texas Tech dodged the Gilbert bullet Saturday, but couldn’t get out of Stillwater without positioning another OSU player to be special teams player of the week.
Backup safety Zack Craig blocked two punts, returning one for a touchdown to add to the Red Raiders’ embarrassment in a 59-21 blowout.
“You can’t be conservative, even in the kicking game,” Tech coach Tommy Tuberville said. “We spread out and tried to have coverage on the return guy. We never even thought they’d get close to our punt. One of our punt times was slow. The other one, we didn’t protect well enough.”
Tech was already down 21-7 and battling negative momentum in the second quarter when Craig swatted his first punt. That positioned OSU at the Tech 24-yard line, setting up the Cowboys’ third touchdown in less than five minutes.
Early in the fourth quarter, Craig blocked Ryan Erxleben again and ran it in 30 yards for a touchdown, making it 59-14.
“Going into the game, we had some block schemes set up,” Craig said, “and I knew if I ran down there and stuck my arm out, I was going to block it. You never know if you’re going to get it. When I did, I can’t explain it. It was nuts.”
The week after the Tech-TCU game, when the Red Raiders had to contend with dangerous Horned Frogs return man Skye Dawson, Erxleben said he was told to hold the ball a little longer to give coverage a chance to get downfield. The Red Raiders also had a fake punt in their pocket if the punt-return team peeled back.
Tuberville acknowledged as much, but said that wasn’t the case Saturday.
“That was more of a coverage thing, and a thing where we were possibly going to fake it,” Tuberville said of the earlier game. “Tonight, that didn’t happen. They executed. We didn’t.
“They did a good job of bringing pressure from the side we were punting the ball to. They brought it from the right, and we were going right. Our upback didn’t get over and at least get a hand on him where (Erxleben) could possibly get it off.”
The Red Raiders have now had four kicks blocked in the last four games. Before Saturday, Tech kicker Ryan Bustin had field goals blocked in the Oct. 27 loss at Kansas State and in the Nov. 3 loss to Texas.
Tuberville mentioned that tight end Jace Amaro was in on punt protection earlier in the year before he got hurt in the Oct. 13 West Virginia game.
“Ever since then, we hadn’t had anybody really rush us,” Tuberville said. “The second block, we were kicking what we call ‘sky right.’ They did a good job of bringing three to the side we were punting from, and our punt was pretty slow.
“But still you’ve got to have protection. It wasn’t the punter’s fault. Snaps were good. They did a good job bringing (pressure) when normally the other team doesn’t come.”
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