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2021 Oklahoma Report Card: Special Teams

Kicking the football was fine for the most part, but Oklahoma struggled to cover crucial kicks and was entirely underwhelming on returns.

Oklahoma’s special teams in 2021 were pretty special — until they collapsed like a house of cards.

Lincoln Riley’s insistence after losing to Oklahoma State that Oklahoma couldn’t have benefited from a dedicated special teams coach — as his team was eliminated from the Big 12 Championship and he was only a few hours away from taking the USC job — underscores either his arrogance as a coach or the idea that he’d already made his decision.

OU had a couple of All-American-type kickers in Gabe Brkic and Michael Turk.

Turk, a transfer from Arizona State, averaged a school-record 51.7 yards per punt (the previous mark was 47.84), including an 85-yard kick. Of his 35 total punts, 20 went 50 yards or more. He placed 16 inside the 20 and only had four touchbacks. By percentage, his numbers led the nation, but he didn’t have enough kicks to qualify as an NCAA leader.

Brkic, a three-year starter, was otherworldly over the first half of the season, hitting 5-of-7 field goals from beyond 50 yards. He also made the first walk-off, game-winning field goal in school history — the first with zeroes showing on the game clock — and tied the school record with four makes in a game. But Brkic’s accuracy faded down the stretch. He missed two kicks in a loss to Baylor, then missed a 25-yarder in a tight win over Iowa State. In the Alamo Bowl, Brkic missed an extra point for the first time in his career.

2021 OU Report Cards

It was in other areas that Oklahoma’s special teams play really tailed off.

On returns, Riley always preferred to play it safe with fair catches on both kickoffs and punts. That neutered the OU return game, which for generations has enjoyed an advantage on kickoffs and punts due to superior athletes. But in 2021, those athletes weren’t allowed to shine. (That mindset changed in the Alamo Bowl, when Bob Stoops cut Marvin Mims loose and Mims responded with a season-long 24 yard punt return, which sparked a short touchdown drive.)

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In the regular-season, OU averaged just 5.0 yards on punt returns and 20.0 on kickoff returns — both among the lowest totals in school history.

Mims led the team with a 6.9-yard average on punts and averaged 25.5 yards on two kickoff returns, while Mario Williams led the Sooners with five kickoff returns for a 21.6-yard average. OU's longest kickoff return all season was just 31 yards.

OU could have absolutely used a special teams coach in the Bedlam loss, when Eric Gray broke a cardinal rule and retreated inside his 5-yard line to return a punt and instead fumbled, setting up OSU’s go-ahead touchdown.

Also in that game, the Sooners gave up a 100-yard kickoff return to Brennan Presley, who earlier in the game nearly scored on what ended up as a 42-yard kickoff return.

The Sooners also gave up a fourth-quarter kickoff return TD to Kansas State’s Malik Knowles, who has three career touchdowns and more than 1,000 yards on kickoffs.

A greater focus from the coaching staff and a more aggressive approach to returns should result in more consistent results — and fewer catastrophic plays — from the OU special teams in the future

Grading the Special Teams

  • Hoover: B+
  • Chapman: C-
  • Callaway: C+

Special teams GPA: 2.778 (C+ on a 4.0 scale)