Preview: ST will bounce back

Bustin's accuracy eases minds |
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Texas Tech's special teams put up good stats in 2011. The Red Raiders ranked
second in the Big 12 in net punting, fifth in kickoff return yardage, punter
Ryan Erxleben put up the best numbers of his career and Donnie
Carona connected on 14-of-16 field goal attempts inside the 50-yard line.
Those stats don't tell the whole story, however. Losses to Kansas State and
Texas A&M can directly be linked to special teams failures -- two blocked field
goals, one returned for a touchdown, and a kickoff return for a touchdown. Two
Keystone Kops-like mistakes against Oklahoma State -- a fumbled punt return in
the first quarter and a fumbled kickoff return in the second -- helped the
Cowboys put the game out of reach by halftime. In the season's second-to-last
week, a coverage gaffe in the second half against Missouri kept the Tigers in
the game and helped them cut Tech's lead to three.
If the Red Raiders are going to return to the postseason, those kinds of
mistakes simply cannot happen.
due to ancillary failures, not errors from the roles that immediately come to
mind when one thinks of special teams -- placekicker, punter, deep snapper.
Tommy Tuberville thinks those areas will be improved this fall.
"This year with more depth we'll be better, we'll have better kickoff coverage
teams," he said. "We gave up a couple of kickoffs for a touchdown last year that
really set us back. As you said, we had field goals blocked with backup
offensive linemen in the game that were true freshmen that needed to be over
there watching instead of playing.
"But we're growing up. We're getting a little more depth. We're getting to a
position now where we're a little bit more selective on who plays, and normally
it won't be a first-year guy. It's going to be a guy that's been out there and
done that and learned the hard way sometimes and gotten good experience."
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If the protection and coverage units can avoid key mistakes, the Red Raiders'
special teams units should be much improved in 2012.
Erxleben returns for his third season as Tech's starting punter after putting up
solid numbers as a sophomore in 2011. The Lake Travis product averaged 41.68
yards per punt last year -- the best mark for a Red Raider punter since 2007 --
and helped the team finish the season ranked second in the conference in net
Ryan Bustin, Carona's replacement at placekicker, was one of the
biggest surprises of the spring. For the first three or four weeks of practices,
he simply did not miss.
"I'm not going to jinx him," Tuberville said two weeks into spring practice.
"I'm not going to say anything. He's doing good. He's only missed one -- knock
on wood -- in about 40 kicks. I don't think he got a real good hold on that one
(that he missed)."
Bustin transferred to Tech last year after spending the 2010 season at Kilgore
College, where he pulled double duty as the team's placekicker and punter.
During his time at Kilgore, Bustin was perfect on PATs and converted 13 field
goal attempts.
Alex Chester will assume the primary deep snapper role for the Red
Raiders this fall after backing up Jesse Smitherman last year.
NEW FACES: The only newcomer on Tech's special teams roster is
deep snapper Trent Williams, a transfer from Blinn College.
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PRESSURE IS ON: Ryan Bustin. The Kilgore College transfer was
extremely impressive during the spring, displaying both excellent accuracy and
surprising leg strength. Bustin set the bar pretty high, and now he'll have to
shoulder the burden of expectations.
BIGGEST QUESTION: Can Bustin duplicate or come close to
duplicating his spring performance? Having an automatic three points on the
sideline will make things easier from a playcalling perspective on Tuberville
and offensive coordinator
Neal Brown.