Big 12: Ryan Epperson

Best and worst of the Big 12's bowl games

January, 11, 2010
1/11/10
1:00
PM ET
Here a look back at some of the highs and lows of the Big 12's bowl games.

Best game: In the grand scheme of things, Iowa State’s 14-13 triumph over Minnesota in the Insight Bowl was a matchup of two 6-6 teams. But the Cyclones’ pulsating victory still provided much excitement for the Cyclones. Alexander Robinson rushed for 137 yards in the victory that was settled by a late fumble recovery by ISU cornerback Ter’ran Benton, who was playing in his first game since breaking his leg on Oct. 24. Benton pounced on the turnover by Minnesota’s MarQueis Gray and the ISU did the rest with a clock-killing drive that provided an unexpected bowl victory for coach Paul Rhoads. Yes, that’s the same team that was expected to struggle to stay out of the North Division cellar before the season.

Best relief performance: Texas Tech starting quarterback Taylor Potts had a strong game in the Valero Alamo Bowl, but the Red Raiders needed a spark as they trailed Michigan State 31-27 early in the fourth quarter. Backup quarterback Steven Sheffield responded by completing his first six passes after relieving Potts, driving for two touchdowns to claim the victory. Potts earned the game’s most valuable player honors, but Sheffield finished by completing 9-for-11 passes for 88 yards as he directed the comeback.

Best use of bowl practice: Nebraska’s maligned offense showed some unexpected punch against Arizona in the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl. Nebraska offensive coordinator Shawn Watson took advantage of bowl preparations to rebuild quarterback Zac Lee’s confidence and incorporate freshman Rex Burkhead into the Wildcat formation. The result was a 33-0 victory over the Wildcats with 223 yards of rushing -- most for the Cornhuskers since the first game of the season.

Best bow to youth: Injuries forced Oklahoma to employ freshmen defenders including defensive linemen David King, defensive tackle Jamarkus McFarland and cornerback Demontre Hurst against Stanford in the Brut Sun Bowl. The trio came up big throughout the game to spark the Sooners’ 31-27 victory over the Cardinal. “The future’s bright,” Oklahoma defensive ends coach Chris Wilson understated to the Oklahoman after the game.

Most significant injury: Texas moved the ball smartly against Alabama, gaining 26 yards on five plays with Colt McCoy in charge. But McCoy went down with nerve damage to his right shoulder, the Longhorns’ offense unraveled during the rest of the half with backup Garrett Gilbert at quarterback. Alabama took advantage to charge a 24-6 halftime and take control of the Citi BCS National Championship Game.

Worst reaction to a defensive formation: Navy defensive coordinator Buddy Green dared Missouri to run the ball by using an alignment with two down linemen. Even with Derrick Washington in the backfield, the Tigers could produce only 65 yards rushing as they repeatedly passed and sputtered in a 35-13 loss to the Midshipmen.

Worst finish: Mississippi’s defense took over down the stretch, forcing turnovers on the Cowboys’ final six turnovers. Zac Robinson’s offense contributed four interceptions and his team lost two fumbles as the Rebels claimed a 21-7 victory over Oklahoma State in the AT&T Cotton Bowl.

Worst play call: Texas could have gone to halftime trailing by only 11 points. But Texas coach Mack Brown elected to have Garrett Gilbert attempt a seemingly safe shovel pass to D.J. Monroe. The ball was batted around and finally ended up in the arms of Alabama defensive lineman Marcell Dareus, who then stiff-armed Gilbert to the ground and pirouetted around Kyle Hix en route to a 28-yard touchdown return.

Worst officiating call: With about nine minutes remaining in a tie game, Oklahoma State had the ball on the Ole Miss 19-yard line and appeared poised to claim the lead. Ole Miss defensive tackle Jerrell Powe looked to have obviously jumped offsides on a snap as he charged past center Andrew Lewis before the snap was completed. Feeling that he had a free play, Oklahoma State quarterback Zac Robinson threw to the end zone, where he was intercepted by Ole Miss free safety Kendrick Lewis in the end zone. Robinson begged to have the call overturned, but the officials didn’t do it. The Cowboys unraveled from that point in the game.

Worst special teams: Texas A&M’s struggles on special teams were the biggest reason the Aggies dropped a 44-20 loss to Georgia in the AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl. The Bulldogs blocked a field-goal attempt, returned a kick for a touchdown and blocked a punt in the first half. The Aggies capped the debacle by snapping the ball over A&M punter Ryan Epperson's head in the third quarter, leading to another Georgia touchdown. The special-teams meltdown was the major reason the Aggies dropped their 11th game in their last 13 bowl games.

Georgia beats Texas A&M in Independence Bowl

December, 28, 2009
12/28/09
9:44
PM ET
Georgia made it look easy in the second half as the Bulldogs raced to a 44-20 victory over Texas A&M in the AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl.


Here’s a look at how the Bulldogs made it happen, giving the Southeastern Conference a victory in the first of three bowl games against the Big 12:

How the game was won: Georgia blew the game open by scoring on five of its first drives in the second half. The first four of those came on possessions of 40, 24, 35 and 28 yards as the Bulldogs took advantage of good field position after a multitude of A&M mistakes in the third quarter.

Turning point: After A&M was stopped on fourth down, trailing 17-14 early in the third quarter, a high center snap over the head of A&M punter Ryan Epperson went for a loss of 24 yards. Georgia scored three plays later on a 24-yard pass from Joe Cox to Aron White and the rout was on.

Stat of the game: A&M special teams errors directly led to 24 points for Georgia in the game. It helped the Bulldogs claim the 10th Southeastern Conference bowl victory in the last 13 games against Big 12 teams, dating to 2003.

Player of the game: Brandon Boykin set a Southeastern Conference record by bringing back an 81-yard kickoff return for a touchdown – his record-breaking third TD return of the season. He finished with 107 yards on two returns, but his TD return ignited the slumbering Bulldogs.

What Georgia learned: The Bulldogs’ makeshift defensive coaching staff could get players ready to play. Georgia produced interceptions on back-to-back drives for the first time this season to spark the third-quarter turnaround.

What Texas A&M learned: The Aggies’ special teams need a lot of work during the off-season. A&M dominated the game offensively, but was behind because of its frequent problems returning kicks and punting. It can’t afford to do that against good teams – from outside the conference and inside the Big 12.

Ranking the Big 12's special teams

September, 3, 2009
9/03/09
6:22
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin


I know this makes me sound like a coaches, but I actually think that special teams really does account for a third of a team's success. And I think that solid play in all facets is especially critical in the Big 12 because of the small margin of error in most games.

Here's a look at how I rank the special teams in the conference, giving each team a master rating including all facets of the kicking game.

1. Texas: The best combination kicking game in the league with two-deep talent at both kicker and punter and Jordan Shipley to take care of the returns. The Longhorns always have fast, talented athletes covering kicks as well. And I'm curious to see if Justin Tucker really will be able to produce rugby-style punts with both feet.

2. Oklahoma State:The Cowboys have the best kickoff/punt returners in the conference in Dez Bryant and Perrish Cox. Special-teams coach Joe DeForest always does an outstanding job, although he’ll be in tough spot replacing Matt Fodge as his punter this season.

3. Nebraska: Alex Henery was the best kicker in the conference with a knack for making huge kicks. It's curious that Nebraska coaches would risk that success by having him double up as a punter this season. But he actually came to college as a walk-on punter. Niles Paul will get the start as both punt returner and kick returner. And Adi Kunalic led the nation in touchbacks as a kickoff specialist.

4. Kansas State:I’m basing this as much on past success as anything else -- Ron Prince’s team blocked four punts for touchdowns last season. Brandon Banks is a threat to break a big return on every play and he’ll be doubling as a kick and punt returner this season. Even with Bill Snyder taking over, I’m still thinking this will be a productive unit as they break in new kicker Josh Cherry and new punter Ryan Doerr.

5. Baylor: The Bears have the most consistent punter in the conference with Derek Epperson. Look for improvement from kicker Ben Parks. One key will be boosting punt returns with new returner Krys Buerck after ranking only 118th nationally as a team last season.

6. Iowa State: I think that Jack Trice Stadium might be the toughest facility in the conference because of its swirling winds. Paul Rhoads has some confidence with Grant Mahoney back at kicker and Mike Brandtner at punter. Leonard Johnson is one of the most effective kickoff returners in the conference. But the Cyclones need a boost on punt returns and in covering kicks.

7. Oklahoma: For a team with as many athletes as the Sooners, I was surprised with their difficulties in covering kicks last season. That’s the immediate concern for them. DeMarco Murray was a threat on every return, but I doubt he plays there much because of his recent injury problems. Dominique Franks, Ryan Broyles and Cameron Kenney are expected to contribute in the return game. And Kenney might even push Tress Way for punting duties. Coaches have also been impressed with the improved range of kicker Jimmy Stevens. We’ll see if that holds up when the season starts.

8. Texas Tech: The story about Matt “Lynwood” Williams was one of the best in college football last year as he emerged from an in-game kicking contest to win most of the kicking honors for the Red Raiders. Donnie Carona was a disappointment as a kicker, but may emerge as a punter along with Ryan Erxleben (yeah, he’s the son of former Texas punter Russell Erxleben) as the Red Raiders wait for Jonathan LaCour to come off a Big 12-mandated suspension. Edward Britton and Jamar Wall will be involved in returning kicks, along with many others.

9. Texas A&M: Here’s a stat that shows how far Texas A&M’s once vaunting kicking game has fallen in recent years. The Aggies haven’t converted a field goal of 50 yards or more since 2000. Randy Bullock is back as the kicker and freshman Ryan Epperson and Ken Wood are still battling for the punting job. Christine Michael inherits the kickoff return duties, but look for heralded junior-college cornerback Coryell Judie to be involved some way.

10. Missouri: No Jeremy Maclin and Jeff Wolfert means that the Tigers will rebuild one of their strongest units last season. Their net punting figures to improve after Jake Harry’s strong start. Grant Ressel won the kicking job in a tight battle, but might be pushed this season. Gary Pinkel is sorting through his options in the return game but won’t have anybody nearly as gifted as Maclin. And they need to do a better job covering kicks after allowing a kickoff return for a touchdown for the first time last season.

11. Kansas: The Jayhawks desperately need some improvement in this category. Jacob Branstetter converted 75 percent of his kicks, but his longest was only 34 yards. Punter Alonso Rojas’ net average was only 33.9 yards. And the Jayhawks ranked 118th nationally in kickoff returns as Marcus Herford accounted for most of the returns. They showed some strong improvement late in the season when Dezmon Briscoe took over.

12. Colorado: The Buffaloes had the worst field-goal percentage in the country as they converted only 29 percent last season. They also lose Josh Smith, who set a school record for total kick return yards. Coaches think that Andre Simmons will be able to help here, but I’ll take a wait-and-see attitude before I get too excited.

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