NCAA FB

Texas playing 'Wild Bunch' special teams

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AUSTIN, Texas (AP)

(Eds: Updates. With AP Photos.)By JIM VERTUNOAP Sports

For the kicking team, the best kickoffs are the ones that sail deep into the end zone or all the way through it, leaving no chance for a return for a touchdown.

No. 14 Texas is challenging that notion, daring teams to bring it out and punishing ball carriers when they do.

Through their first two games against Wyoming and New Mexico, the Longhorns have allowed just 12.6 yards per return, third best in the country. Of freshman kickoff specialist Nick Rose' eight kickoffs that did not reach the end zone, the opponents' average starting field position has been the 14.

The longest return allowed by Texas has been 15 yards, leading Texas coach Mack Brown to wonder if a touchback - that now comes out to the 25 - is overrated.

Texas (2-0) plays at Mississippi (2-0) on Saturday night.

''We set the tone,'' said freshman linebacker Dalton Santos, whose big hits have made him a standout on the kickoff unit dubbed the ''Wild Bunch.''

''It's almost like a switch hits. You don't even think. You just run,'' Santos said. ''If this guy gets in my way, we're just going to go right through him. Just be relentless. Don't let one man block you. Take three or four on, you know? And that's what kickoff is.''

Yet everything is set up by the one guy least likely to be in the mix of all the bodies crashing around.

Rose has amazed Brown with his soaring kickoffs. They seldom go more than one or two yards deep in the end zone but have tremendous hang time, allowing Santos and the rest of the coverage team time to sprint downfield. The return man, just a step inside the goal line, usually brings it out only to wish he hadn't.

In Texas' 45-0 win over New Mexico last week, a Lobos returner, ''looked at me square in the eyes and said, `Oh, no!' Santos said.

A rule change in college football this year moved kickoffs from the 30 to the 35-yard line in an effort to get more touchbacks and reduce some of the crushing contact.

Instead of limiting contact, Rose's towering kicks are inviting it and allowing Texas to pin teams deep in their own end. Preventing a team from reaching even the 20 means an offense will likely need an extra play or two just to get into field goal position, defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat said.

''It's all about field position and momentum,'' Jeffcoat said.

Brown calls the kick coverage through the first two games ''the best we've ever had.''

Longhorns special teams could create some other headaches for the Rebels.

Texas got its first punt block of the season by Mykkele Thompson last week and blocked an extra point in the opener. Since 2002, Texas has blocked 56 kicks, second most in the nation behind Fresno State (64).

''Any time you go against a team that has the team speed they have, their special teams are going to be good,'' Rebels coach Hugh Freeze said.

Yet Texas has been shaky in one area where the Longhorns have been rock solid for years.

Freshman field goal kicker Nick Jordan is just 2 of 5 with all three misses from 45 yards or longer. Brown says he still has confidence in Jordan, but the Longhorns are hopeful Penn State transfer Anthony Fera can eventually take over field goal and extra point duties.

Fera missed the first two games because of a groin strain and his status for the Mississippi game was still listed as questionable.

Tagged: Florida, Texas, Mack Brown

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