Diminishing returns for kick coverage unit

AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas coach Mack Brown had a simple and straightforward answer about the ills that have hit the Texas kick coverage team.

"The returners have been better than our tacklers."

Well, there you go. See how easy it was to clear all that up.

Couple that answer with a new-found commitment to the always inspiring squib kick and maybe everything will be fine at Texas. But still there is the lingering thought that things should be better than fine when it comes to Texas kick coverage team.

This after all was a celebrated group after the first two weeks of the season. They had dubbed themselves the Wild Bunch. Dalton Santos' legend was growing with every screaming trip he made down the field. Kicker Nick Rose's cannon leg was being canonized. Brown was talking about how he wants his special teams to be the best in the country. And the coach told the media of how Texas had dedicated more time to special teams in the preseason and were now seeing the fruits of its labor.

Then Ole Miss went and returned a kick 100 yards for a touchdown.

It was humid. The players were tired. They should have been subbed more.

Those excuses, offered by those in burnt orange, seemed plausible. Maybe indeed it was an aberration.

Or maybe not. Oklahoma State was forced into three touchbacks. But on its three kick returns it averaged 32 yards. Another kick, a squib, went out of bounds and allowed OSU to start on the 35. (There was some controversy over a missed call on the play. It appeared to hit an OSU player before going out of bounds.)

Against West Virginia, Texas allowed kick returns of 44 and 67 yards before it decided it did not have the athletes or the lane discipline to kick it deep to the Mountaineers. So from that point forward Texas went with squib kicks.

Even then Stedman Bailey picked up a ball at the eight, wove through tacklers and made it to the 24.

Texas is 53rd nationally in kick coverage, allowing 20.37 yards. And for all the talk about Rose’s leg he only has 11 touchbacks in 40 attempts.

The counter to all this is that Texas does have very good returners itself. The Longhorns are 17th with an average of 26.47 pre return and have had a 100-yard score by D.J. Monroe.

This week’s opponent, Oklahoma, is 31st with a 24.63 average. That’s better than Ole Miss (72) and West Virginia (61).