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How Oklahoma State schemed to block Texas PATs

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Advanced scouting helped the Pokes discover a weaknesss in the place-kicking unit of the ‘Horns.

Texas v Oklahoma State Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images

In the first half of the 49-31 loss by the Texas Longhorns to the Oklahoma State Cowboys in Saturday in Stillwater, the Cowboys were able to tie a school record by blocking three point-after attempts by the Longhorns.

In fact, all of those blocks came in the first half, on three consecutive tries.

‘‘It was happening with the guards over loading it,’’ said head coach Charlie Strong during his post-game press conference.

‘‘They were pressing one side of it and coming through. What we needed to do was get all the way to the second guy…the first guy was pinning the guard and the second guy was running through. He was stepping right over the center.’’

NCAA rules prevent three players standing shoulder to shoulder targeting a blocker on point-after attempts and also prevent contact on the deep snapper for one second after the snap.

As Strong described, Oklahoma State defensive tackle Vincent Taylor was sliding past Holbrook and into the backfield (highlighted with the long arrow below).

This rule is rather difficult to interpret and enforce — if the officials rule that the player coming through the A gap makes contact with the deep snapper before one second expires, it’s a penalty. However, if the deep snapper makes contact with the defensive player first, then the one-second window doesn’t apply.

So by creating space with one defender getting push against the guard, Taylor then shot through the gap and forced Holbrook to attempt to block him. That’s one interpretation at least.

One might also argue that Taylor wasn’t able to fully avoid Holbrook when he was still in his stance from the snap, but it’s difficult to tell who initiated the contact because deep snapper Jak Holbrook does appear to attempt to block Taylor going past him.

Oklahoma State essentially put the officials in the position of deciding whether or not Taylor made contact first and the ruling did not go in favor of Texas.

‘‘How we’re schemed up, the center is just a small guy, he’s not a big enough guy where he can snap and then raise up,’’ Strong said.

The first-year deep snapper this season is Holbrook, a third-year sophomore from McCaullum who is at 5’10 and 204 pounds. Now listed as 30 pounds heavier than he was in high school, Holbrook is still small for a college deep snapper.

By comparison, the 2015 deep snapper, Kyle Ashby, was listed at 234 pounds last season, in addition to having two inches in height on Holbrook.

Ashby was consistent enough to earn a scholarship from Texas prior to the 2015 season, but he opted not to return for his senior season for unknown reasons. Perhaps he was a scholarship casualty since the ‘Horns added the four former Baylor signees during the summer, similar to what happened with place-kicker Trent Domingue at LSU.

In any case, Holbrook is now the starter, but the staff does have another option at the position — freshman Michael David Poujoul, who is listed at 6’3, 215.

An Offense-Defense All-American in the 2015 class, Poujoul was also rated as the No. 6 long snapper in the country, but he recently joined the team and doesn't have the experience of Holbrook.

And his extra reach and 10 pounds of mass on Holbrook might not have been enough to stop Oklahoma State defensive tackle Vincent Taylor.

‘‘That can be corrected,” Strong said. “When we missed the field go it was more penetration but it was just a miss. We can get that corrected.’’

On the block by Taylor, the Texas place-kicking unit had an opportunity to tackle Taylor, but he returned to favor to his point guard growing up playing basketball, safety Tre Flowers, and was able to connect on an option-style pitch after making eye contact with his longtime friend.

The fact that the two have played sports together for so long and could effectively communicate and execute that play was some bad luck for the Longhorns.

The second block appeared to feature a confusion in blocking assignments — the Oklahoma State defensive tackles lined up over the right guard on this play and sophomore Patrick Vahe appeared to try to help the left guard with the opponent lined up over Holbrook. When that happened, the Cowboys player lined up over Vahe was able to slip past to record the second blocked point-after attempt.

On the third failed point-after attempt for Texas, Vahe wasn’t able to get a quick block on Taylor, who may have committed a penalty on this particular play by making contact with Holbrook immediately after the snap, even though the Longhorns deep snapper appeared to remain in his stance and did not appear to initiate contact.

Whatever other adjustments the ‘Horns make to the place-kicking unit this week, sending the first and third blocks to the Big 12 office for review and comment would at least alert officials to pay more close attention next week in the Cotton Bowl if the Sooners attempt similar tactics.

Otherwise, Strong and his staff will have to decide whether making personnel changes to insert the larger Poujoul gives Texas the best chance of avoiding more blocked point-after attempts or whether an emphasis on the backside guard giving better help to the deep snapper will solve the problem.

However the Texas coaches decide to fix the issue, the in-game solutions weren’t adequate and cost the ‘Horns five points, with Caleb Bluiett’s saving shove out of bounds on the return of the third block keeping that count from hitting seven points.

Given the continued issues on special teams, allowing three blocked point-after attempts in one half to a better-prepared opponent and failing to properly adjust and execute speaks poorly of this Texas team — both the coaches and the players.

After allowing another blocked point-after attempt and two-point return against Notre Dame, this has now happened too many times this season.

If the coaches and players can’t get this right moving forward, there’s no question about who will receive the blame for it and be held accountable as a result.

And deservedly so.