Back in the swing
Texas Tech senior Ryan Erxleben is back among the Big 12’s top punters, ranking fourth in the league with a 43.1-yard average. He’s rebounded nicely from the jolt of losing his job — he’s a fourth-year starter — for a couple of weeks earlier this season.
“That was pretty tough,” he said. “I felt like I was getting a character test. At that point, I didn’t know what the future held, but I knew God held it and I just put my faith in him. I just held my head up, did the best I could and hoped for the best.”
Erxleben wasn’t punting poorly in the first month of the season, but coaches were intrigued by the raw leg strength of sophomore Taylor Symmank. The first time they went with Symmank for a full game, he averaged 47.2 yards against TCU with three efforts of 50 or more yards. Then he averaged 33.5 yards on four punts against Texas State and coaches went back to Erxleben, who’s more consistent.
“I wish Taylor the best in any situation,” Erxleben said, “but I guess the cards kind of fell back in my favor and I just capitalized on the next opportunity and got it back.”
Erxleben had one of his prettiest efforts of the season Saturday, having a punt land inside the 1-yard line and bounce back to be killed at the 3.
The Sooners subsequently marched 97 yards to score, but the punt looked good at the time.
“That was sweet,” Erxleben said. “I was kind of cutting it close. I was thinking, ‘Man, if this goes in the end zone, (special teams coach Trey) Haverty’s going to ... it’s not going to be good.
“I think someone was in my way or something. All I heard was the OU crowd go, ‘Ahhhh.’ Then I saw the ball and thought, ‘Sweet.’”
Erxleben probably could slip into the Boston Red Sox dugout unnoticed these days, if he had the right cap. He’s working on a six weeks’ growth of a thick beard.
“I’m getting a jump start on no-shave November,” he said. “I’m going strong right now. I’ve never grown one. I don’t want to admit, my mom’s going to make me shave it off for senior day. I already know it.”
That’s next week when the Red Raiders host Kansas State on Nov. 9 in their final home game of the season.
Bennett Ofor was in the Texas Tech defensive line rotation from the beginning of the game Saturday at Oklahoma, meaning the transfer from Midwestern State got his most significant playing time so far.
He came in mostly on passing downs for Dennell Wesley and lined up at noseguard.
It might have been because the Red Raiders needed another body with Dartwan Bush out with a sprained knee. And it might be a sign of Ofor’s development.
“A little bit of both,” defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt said. “Bennett’s a high-motor kid. That’s not been Dennell’s forte, as far as rushing the passer.
“We’re just trying to keep guys fresh and rotate the front as much as we can. We tried to put him in a position to have success and give Dennell a breather in those passing-type situations.”
Ofor is a 6-foot-3, 255-pound junior from Friendswood Clear Brook, where he was a four-year starter and first-team all-District 24-5A as a senior. He played in eight games two years ago as a redshirt freshman at Midwestern State.
“He runs hard. He goes a hundred miles an hour,” defensive line coach John Scott Jr. said. “A guy like that, you’ve got to get him on the field somehow in certain situations, and that’s what we did Saturday. When he was in there, he did a really nice job for us.”
Sophomore Micah Awe played most of the game Saturday at Raider outside linebacker, taking over after starter Terrance Bullitt got hurt in the first quarter.
Awe had not played outside linebacker since his junior year in high school. He’s been a middle or, at least inside, linebacker ever since.
“I’ve never had to set the edge,” Awe said. “I had to adjust on the fly.”
Austin Stewart was Bullitt’s backup for most of the season, but coaches made Stewart the starter at strong safety last week. He started for J.J. Gaines (shoulder), who’s out for the season.
Awe said he’s practicing on the outside again this week.
Compiled by Don Williams