Special teams could play big role in Independence Bowl

Thursday, December 30th 1999, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SHREVEPORT, La. (AP) -- Special teams could play a big role in the Independence Bowl for both Ole Miss and Oklahoma. Rebels coach David Cutcliffe this year watched Deuce McAllister set the tone for a 38-16 win over Arkansas by returning the opening kickoff 100 yards. He saw Les Binkley make a 45-yard field goal at Auburn that sent the Rebels into overtime and a 24-17 victory. He saw Binkley produce the only points in a 3-0 season-opening win against Memphis. "That's an area where often there are big plays, momentum-swinging plays," Cutcliffe said. "I think that will be critical."

He won't get any argument from Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, who has one of the Big 12 Conference's best special teams units. "It really makes a difference in field position and points," Stoops said. The Sooners have been able to gain a field position advantage both with their punts and their punt returns.

Besides averaging 42.4 yards per punt, Jeff Ferguson has also kicked 19 of 54 punts inside the opposition's 20-yard line. And he had a long punt of 73 yards, one that certainly changed the field position. Jarrail Jackson has been able to give the Sooners both points and field position as a punt returner. He had a 70-yard touchdown punt return against Missouri and he averaged 10.2 yards per punt return. "I feel like I can take one back at any time," Jackson said." It's just timing and great blocking."

If Jackson has given the Sooners good field position on punt returns, then Brandon Daniels has given the offense a short field as a kickoff returner.
Daniels, a senior wide receiver, led the nation in kickoff returns with a 31.75 average. He was a semifinalist for the Mosi Tatupu Special Teams Award. Against Notre Dame, Daniels had returns of 89, 43 and 68 yards. He had 16 returns for 508 yards. "Our special teams made a lot of positive plays for us and I believe it contributed to a lot of big wins for us," Stoops said. "I think we're about first or second in every special teams category. We spend a great deal of time trying to improve them during the year. And they've come up really big in many games."

The Sooners are first in kickoff returns with a 24.8 average. They are second in punt returns with a 12.7 average. They are second in punting with a 39.9 average. The Rebels, meanwhile, aren't exactly slouches when it comes to special teams. Binkley was a second-team All SEC selection this year. He made 14 of 16 field goal attempts with his only misses coming from 31 and 47 yards. And he was perfect on all 36 of his extra-point attempts. 'I felt like I had a pretty good year, but there are always some things you'd like to do better," Binkley said. "On thewhole, I felt pretty good. But I'm still hungry."

With two teams with identical 7-4 records, a kicker could decide a close game. "Every time I go into the game, I always think it's going to come down to a kick. That's how I always prepare," Binkley said. McAllister, meanwhile, gives the Rebels a big-play threat returning kickoffs. He averaged 26.1 yards per kickoff return. Besides the 100-yard return against Arkansas, he also had a 48-yard return against Alabama. "I did it in high school and I ended up doing pretty good once I got used to it again," McAllister said. "I really enjoyed doing it. I just had to get used to catching punts again. I did all of that stuff in high school. It's just an added dimension. It's just another way to go out there and touch the ball."

McAllister returned only three punts during the regular season. He averaged 10 yards per return. Cory Peterson handled most of the punt returns for the Rebels. He averaged 8.5 yards per return and had a long return of 30 yards. Peterson has big play capabilities himself. He had a 92-yardpunt return for a score last year against SMU. "I'm still trying to spring one," Peterson said. Perhaps one of the biggest keys will be punter Reagan King. He averaged 38.3 yards per punt, but had 16 of his 56 punts go inside the opponents' 20-yard line. His punting could be crucial in determining Oklahoma's field position.