Texas defender Naashon Hughes gets a hand on the ball to block a Notre Dame field goal attempt to keep the Longhorns lead at 31-28 in the second half at Royal-Memorial Stadium on Sunday September 4, 2016. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Football

Texas fares well on special teams in win over Notre Dame

Posted September 5th, 2016

At times during the 2015 season, Texas’ special teams were, well, anything but special. There was that missed extra point in the final minutes against Cal, and the botched punt in a 30-27 loss to Oklahoma State.

One year later — even on a night when a blocked extra point was turned into a game-tying two-point conversion — the Longhorns shined on special teams in a 50-47 double-overtime win over Notre Dame.

To recap:

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  • Naashon Hughes a blocked field goal in the third quarter.
  • Mitchell Becker had a key kick after a penalty forced a fourth-quarter kickoff from the Texas 20.
  • Michael Dickson averaged 55 yards on six punts.

“People don’t understand how huge special teams are,” senior safety Kevin Vaccaro said.

Hughes kept Notre Dame off the scoreboard when he used his left forearm to block a 36-yard try by Notre Dame kicker Justin Yoon in the third quarter. The block came one play after safety DeShon Elliott jarred a touchdown out of the hands of Torii Hunter, Jr., with a booming hit in the end zone, and it kept the Fighting Irish from trying the game at 31.

“Our coach talks about it all the time that (momentum) is going to swing both ways, so I guess after that hit with Torii Hunter — I don’t even know if he’s OK, I hope he is — after the hit, momentum just swung on our side. The blocked kick just added to it,” Hughes said. “We just elevated our game from there.”

Notre Dame and Texas exchanged leads in the fourth quarter before the Irish tied the game on Shaun Crawford’s return of a blocked extra point. On the play, the Texas bench was flagged for a sideline interference penalty on a return that happened across the field — “I knew it was on me,” Texas coach Charlie Strong said — and was forced to kick from its 20.

With 3:29 remaining, Strong instructed Becker to “just punch it as far as you can.” His junior kicker obliged, and C.J. Sanders’ 18-yard return got Notre Dame to its 29. The Irish punted after three plays.

Texas was unable to score on its final drive of regulation, but Dickson punted the ball 57 yards into the end zone. It was the final of six punts for Dickson, who hit a 64-yarder in the fourth quarter. Texas yielded only one scoring drive following the six punts by Dickson, who was almost too good as Strong said he out-kicked a coverage team that was missing a cramping Kris Boyd.

“It was just fun to watch him punt the ball because he was a huge advantage for us early in the game because he was booming it,” Strong said. “And the thing he does, he puts so much hang time on it, that he allows our players to get down the field and get a fair catch and make the play.”

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