As the season draws to an end we end our look at the position groups with an often undervalued but extremely important aspect of the game, special teams. Mike Gundy has long been known as a coach who puts special emphasis on it. We've seen how big special teams play can be over the last year. From the Tyreek Hill punt return to a game winning field goal by Ben Grogan, as well as a couple more game winners this season.
Last year, Coach Gundy welcomed a graduate assistant and former special teams coordinator at Sam Houston State to the program. Robby Discher has already made his mark in less than two seasons. He won the FootballScoop Special Teams Coordinator of the Year award from FootballScoop.com in his first season.
Saturday in Stillwater, the Cowboys punted a season high ten times. Zach Sinor the redshirt freshman averaged 39 yards per punt. He's been very good this year and has been one of the nation's best at pinning opponents deep in their own territory.
Sinor, a quarterback and linebacker in high school, didn't originally see a punting job in his future. But one day while he was messing around in practice, he happened to kick better than the varsity punter which won him the job. After a successful high school career at Medina Valley High (Castroville, TX) where he averaged 43.7 yards per punt with a long of 66 yards, he sent recruiting film to several schools. He was surprised Oklahoma State offered him a scholarship. He thought he would end up walking on somewhere.
There may not be another player on the roster who has had such huge swings from a fan perspective. He's gone from the freshman who missed several key field goals to a Bedlam hero and now looked at as one of the most clutch kickers in the country. Sure, he will miss a head scratcher now and then or get an extra point blocked but the Cowboys owe two wins to Grogan's foot this season alone.
Grogan also took over kickoff duties to start this season after the departure of Kip Smith. He's averaging just over 60 yards on 82 kickoffs but with only 22 touchbacks. His field goal percentage is up to 73.3% on the year but only 95% on PAT's thanks to a couple early kicks getting blocked.
Jeff Carr and Jalen McKleskey are a couple of true freshman who were not highly recruited outside of Stillwater. Gundy seems to have knack for eyeing talent where most don't. Carr started off the season as the third string running back but was given kickoff returns duties in his first game. He's been okay in that department averaging a little over 21 yards per return, but we've yet to the big play ability that was expected. He'll have his chance to improve and has proven his worth on the offensive side of the ball.
Chris Lacy and Brandon Sheperd have also chipped in some in the return game. Sheperd has five returns for 103 yards.
Jalen McCleskey has shown at least one big play on a punt return. In Lubbock, he returned a high bouncing punt for a touchdown. Again, it hasn't happened as often as Cowboys fans would probably like but he is also a young player who has some obvious skills and should only get better. Although he has that touchdown, he's only averaging 5.4 yards per return. He whiffed a couple but that's just part of the learning process. (Note: The next visitor to Stillwater ranks first in the nation in punt return defense only giving up 7 total yards this season.)
It's been an issue for the Cowboys. Net punting is a statistic that combines total punt yardage with opponents return yardage. Oklahoma State currently ranks 82nd in that category averaging 40.52 yards per punt but allowing 20.41 average return yards. Kickoff's aren't much better. The Cowboys are also ranked 82nd in kickoff return defense allowing an average of 22.13 yards.
The Cowboys are coming off a loss but still have a ton to play for. This Bedlam matchup will be for more than just bragging rights. It could be for a Big 12 championship. And as we've seen, special teams can have a huge impact on that game. Who knows? Maybe there will be new Bedlam hero from this group.