OU football: Special teams emphasis already evident after Week 1 

Kyle Phillips / The Transcript

Oklahoma's Kennedy Brooks goes after a loose ball following a punt block during the Sooners' game against Florida Atlantic on Saturday at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.

NORMAN, Okla. — Jay Boulware admits he can’t run as well as he used to, but lately he finds himself exercising a lot more.

Oklahoma’s running backs coach and special teams coordinator has a gap in his schedule for lunchtime workouts, a luxury he was never afforded before the Sooners hired Shane Beamer to help him oversee special teams and relieve him of coaching H-backs.

Boulware’s also tracking his calorie intake, resulting in weight loss of about 20 pounds since the preseason began.

“[Previously] I was the only guy who couldn’t work out. Since I’ve been here I’ve been growing this way,” Boulware says, raising his arms outward around his stomach. “I put on 50 pounds in three years. It’s refreshing to have another guy on staff who can help.”

And help Beamer has.

He is responsible for OU’s punt-block unit that ambushed a Florida Atlantic attempt in Saturday’s second quarter, with Lee Morris gliding untouched for the deflection and Curtis Bolton recovering the ball in the end zone for a touchdown. It was a launch pad in the seventh-ranked Sooners’ 63-14 victory.

OU hadn’t scored on such a play in 16 seasons and in three years with the team, coach Lincoln Riley had never witnessed a Sooner block a punt. His reaction afterward was that of someone who’d just spotted a white whale.

“That was awesome. It was good. It’s fun to see it happen, fun to see it work,” Riley said. “Coach Beamer’s done a nice job with that group.”

Beamer’s arrival in January brought with it a special teams acumen he learned under his father, Frank Beamer, the former Virginia Tech coach long revered for his knowledge in football’s third phase. Beamer played and coached for his dad, and the effects of “Beamer Ball” still linger in Blacksburg where the Hokies blocked a nation-best five punts in 2018.

OU is placing more emphasis on special teams after poor output a year ago culminated in two critical blunders during the Rose Bowl. Georgia, with Beamer as its special teams coordinator, recovered an OU squib kick near midfield and blocked a field goal in double overtime — two sequences that directly impacted the Sooners’ defeat.

Riley hired Beamer away 22 days later.

“It’s one of those things, looking back last year we just said, you know what, our players have to do better at special teams, but we gotta coach it better,” Riley said. “And it’s certainly not all on coach Boulware, he’s done a tremendous job here. He’s absolutely one of the best guys in the business … In short, we needed to do better and I needed to do better there. I think we’ve had more of a commitment to it. I think we’ve got a more organized approach. Shane’s certainly brought a lot to that.”

OU went full bore after Saturday’s punt, rushing seven players. By comparison, the Sooners routinely sent three or four players after punts against hapless UTEP in last year’s season opener. The same approach was used in the Rose Bowl.

One game is an unfair sample size, but even with Austin Seibert’s missed 53-yard field goal Saturday and OU’s meager return totals, the Sooners stand fifth nationally in ESPN’s special teams efficiency rating.

OU finished last year ranked 119th.

“I think it sets a tone,” Bolton said. “When you get a special teams [score] — especially a blocked punt, it's hard to come back from that. You see the statistics. Usually if you block a punt, it's really hard for you to lose that game.”

Boulware had a tall order trying to emphasize special teams under OU’s previous staff structure, with his attention diverted by two other position groups. People still ask him how the H-backs look in practice and he has to remind them they’re no longer his players to evaluate.

That’s a good thing for his health and the Sooners as a whole.

Once his schedule picked up again, Boulware noticed something.

“I got time now,” he said.


UCLA at No. 7 OU

When: Noon, Saturday

Where: Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium

Records: OU (1-0); UCLA (0-1)

TV: FOX

Radio: KRXO-FM 107.7; KOMA-AM 1520

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