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AROUND THE NATION | TEXAS REPORT

Game Could Be Settled by the Kicking Teams

January 03, 2006|Lonnie White | Times Staff Writer

In last year's 38-37 victory over Michigan in the Rose Bowl, Texas won the kicking battle with key plays down the stretch.

The Longhorns not only kicked a field goal on the final play of the game, but their fourth-quarter comeback began after successfully downing a punt at the Wolverines' 13-yard line. That helped the Longhorns overcome a 31-21 deficit.

Texas is hoping to have the same type of success against USC on Wednesday.

"It seems like all of the focus has been on the offenses," punt returner Aaron Ross said. " ... But we know, as a team, that special teams are very important."

Fifth-year senior David Pino did not have any field-goal attempts in last year's Rose Bowl, but he felt the pressure Dusty Mangum was under when the former walk-on barely made a 37-yard field goal that ended the game.

Afterward, a couple of people, including then-Texas co-defensive coordinator Dick Tomey, now coach at San Jose State, told Pino that he "needed to start preparing for this because it may happen again next year," Pino said. "It's a total blessing for me to be here."

Despite an early-season groin injury, Pino proved his worth in the second game at Ohio State, kicking three field goals, including a 42-yarder, in the Longhorns' 25-22 victory.

But Pino has not been called upon much since because of the Longhorns' ability to score touchdowns. He led Big 12 Conference kickers in scoring but had the second-fewest field-goal attempts.

"Our offense is so incredible that I knew that I was going to kick a lot, either field goals or a lot of extra points," Pino said. "Most of the time, it's been extra points but I had my chances against Oklahoma State and Texas A&M."

Pino kicked two field goals in each victory and said he was prepared for Wednesday.

"When we first got here, I was just thinking about having fun," said Pino, who was 12 for 15 on field goals this season.

"But lately, I've actually been thinking about it more. People have been pumping me up and I'm ready.

"The teams match up so evenly. Offense, defense and even special teams.... It could come down to one play again."

In last year's Rose Bowl game, Richmond McGee had a big game punting for the Longhorns.

He kept the ball away from the Wolverines' Steve Breaston and two of his four punts ended up inside the 20.

Wednesday, McGee's challenge will be Reggie Bush.

"We won't change what we've done all season," said McGee, who punted 20 fewer times than any other punter in the Big 12. "We either kick it with a lot of hang time and we go down and cover, or we kick it out of bounds."

The Longhorns might have an edge when the Trojans punt.

Since Coach Mack Brown took over in 1998, Texas has blocked 26 punts, six this season. The Longhorns had the sixth-best punt return unit in the nation and Ross was second in the Big 12 with a 15-yard average.

That's a good matchup against USC, which punted only 31 times but ranked last in the Pacific 10 Conference in net yardage because opponents averaged 17.7 yards a return, with two touchdowns.

"People have been really executing against them," Ross said. "They have been getting blocked, leaving the punt returner one on one with the punter....They seem to be more focused on [protecting against a] block than they are the return."

*

At Monday's Super Bowl-like media day at the Home Depot Center, many Texas players had interviews cut off by team officials because of a mix-up.

Although USC allowed players not involved in the main tent to be interviewed, Texas did not.

More than 800 media credentials have been issued for Wednesday's game.

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