The Big 12 held a block party during the opening week of the season with multiple touchdowns scored on special teams.
There were four punt returns for touchdowns, including two after blocked punts. A blocked field goal turned into a fifth score. And another blocked punt led to a quick TD one play later.
Granted, half of the opponents were members of the Championship Subdivision, but it does show what the Big 12 is capable of on special teams this season.
According to the league, it’s the second time in its 27-year history that there were four TDs scored off of punts in the same week. The other occurred in 2002. Nationally, it’s the most among FBS conferences since the ACC had five punt-related TDs in one week in 2018.
“I hope that’s a weapon for us,” Baylor coach Dave Aranda said.
Aranda watched Gavin Holmes return a punt 72 yards for a score in a 69-10 win over Albany. Holmes is a sixth-year wideout who missed all of last season with a foot injury. The Bears averaged more than 10 yards per return on five other punts.
“We talk about hidden yardage and we talk about trying to attack on that phase of the game,” Aranda said. “I think when we look at the tape, I think there’s going to be a lot of yards being gained by athleticism and quick decisions and instincts and all of it.”
Derius Davis gave TCU a spark when he ran back a punt 60 yards for a TD. He also scored on a 27-yard reverse to give new coach Sonny Dykes his first win, 38-13 over Colorado. Dykes said the second-quarter punt return kept TCU in the game until the Horned Frogs could get going on offense.
Davis tied KaVontae Turpin’s TCU record of four career punt returns for TDs. Combined with a 100-yard kickoff return against West Virginia last season, Davis has five career special teams scores.
“If you give him some room to run, he knows how to finish,” Dykes said.
“Those are things that are hard to recover from,” South Dakota coach Bob Nielson said. “I think 80% in college football if you get a blocked punt for a touchdown, you lose a football game. We spent a lot of time on our kicking game so we understand that, and we knew it was a lot to overcome.”
No one was having more fun than West Virginia’s CJ Donaldson. The 240-pound freshman certainly had quite a debut in a 38-31 loss to Pittsburgh.
Donaldson wasn’t even on the depth chart for West Virginia’s opener. He arrived on campus as a tight end, and it was discussed that he would get some action at wide receiver and running back. He ended up being all over the place.
In the third quarter, Donaldson blocked a punt deep in Pittsburgh territory. He lined up right of center and made a beeline to the left as Pitt’s Sam Vander Haar, a redshirt freshman, took several steps to his right.
“We’d been practicing it all week,” Donaldson said. “We’d been seeing they had a new punter and a new snapper, so their timing was not as perfect as it would be. So we called a ‘full-go’ call. And I saw him running out to the right and he was holding it.”
West Virginia recovered and Donaldson scored on a 5-yard run on the next play, carrying several Panthers into the end zone.
Donaldson had been inserted at running back early in the second quarter as a change-of-pace option for starter Tony Mathis and backup Justin Johnson. His first carry was a 44-yard run that set up West Virginia’s first touchdown. Donaldson finished with seven carries for 125 yards, the second-best performance among Big 12 backs behind the 126 yards by Deuce Vaughn of Kansas State.
“When my number was called, Tony told me to focus in and just live in the moment. And I was just living in the moment,” Donaldson said. “When the opportunity came, I took it. It was very eye-opening. I wasn’t expecting to see 75,000 people out there. I’m from high school. The most I ever played in front of was probably max 2,000. It was a very great experience.”
Other special teams gems included:
— D’Shawn Jamison of Texas blocked a Louisiana-Monroe punt and teammate Keilan Robinson returned it 12 yards for a TD. Jamison later scored on a 69-yard interception return off a tipped pass in the 52-10 win.
— Jereme Robinson of Kansas blocked a field goal try and teammate Jacobee Bryant scooped up the ball and returned it 61 yards for a TD in a 56-10 win over Tennessee Tech. It was the first such touchdown for the Jayhawks since Patrick Brown did it against Oklahoma in 1996.
AP Sports Writers Stephen Hawkins in Waco, Texas, and Dave Skretta in Manhattan, Kansas, contributed to this report.
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