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July 27, 2012
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.
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 punting.
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.