In his 10 years as head coach at Texas, Mack Brown has always stressed the importance of special teams and their role in gaining momentum for the Longhorns. In Saturday's 59-43 win over Texas Tech, they did just that.
Texas had just taken a 21-10 lead with just over nine minutes remaining in the second quarter when special teams coaches Oscar Giles, Mike Tolleson and Larry Mac Duff noticed a weak spot in the Texas Tech kickoff return, and took a chance to exploit it.
"It was pretty windy conditions, it was 10 or 12 miles per hour winds so the possibility of kicking it out of the end zone was not as high as kicking it with the wind," Giles said. "The opportunity came up because if you do kick it just right, the wind will catch it and hang it up just enough for the speed to come down and get under the ball."
The sky kick, as it as known, is something the Texas special teams had been practicing for a few weeks prior, and debuted against Oklahoma State. The kick is used to negate a potent kick return game by the opponent, and to possibly recover the ball if things fall just right.
"(Getting the ball) is probably the number one goal," Giles said. "We want to try to get the ball, it's hanging up there so long and it's a live ball. It's a great opportunity for a great kick and great speed coming down there, it gives us a chance to come make a play."
Executing a sky kick takes a different approach from the kicker than that of a normal kickoff, but Saturday's attempt was successful largely due to the experience sophomore K Hunter Lawrence has performing the kick, both in practice and in high school.
"It's a little bit more difficult, but I used to do that a lot in high school, so I've gotten a lot of practice at it," Lawrence said.
Lawrence's kick fell perfectly just behind the first wall of Texas Tech blockers, and in front of the second. After one bounce, freshman DB Curtis Brown was able to grab the ball out of the air and maintain possession after the ensuing melee, giving the Texas offense the ball at the Texas Tech 32 yard line.
"Whenever it hit the ground I thought we could (get the ball), because we have a bunch of fast guys down there," Lawrence said. "Especially Curtis Brown, he's always one of the first guys down there on kickoffs, so there's always a chance."
"It kind of scared me when I started bobbling it, I thought I was going to drop it for a second," Curtis Brown added. "I pulled it in, though."
The play was an obvious boost in momentum for Texas, shown on the sidelines and on the field as the Texas offense was able to take advantage of the short field provided, and extended the lead to 28-10. Texas Tech would never climb closer than eight points for the rest of the game.
"It was just unbelievable how people can just be so (excited) about a play," Curtis Brown said on the excitement of his teammates after recovering the kick. "That was one of the most exciting times in my football career, it was wonderful."