Cotton Bowl: Petrino, Snyder See Special Teams As Critical In Upcoming Game

by Chris Bahn  on Thursday, Jan. 5, 2012 9:00 am  

Should the Cotton Bowl come down to kicking, Petrino feels good about sophomore junior Zach Hocker. He's hit 16 of 19 attempts this season, with seven makes on nine attempts from 40 or more yards. (Photo by Mark Wagner)

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IRVING, Texas — Neither Kansas State Coach Bill Snyder nor Arkansas Coach Bobby Petrino has paid attention to other games in the postseason. That’s what both acknowledged when visiting with the media to preview Friday's game between the No. 6 Razorbacks and No. 8 Wildcats.

However, both understand the importance of kickers and special teams. Snyder and Petrino didn’t need to see bowl games blown on the foot of a kicker to know games can be lost when things go awry in the kicking game. 

Should the game come down to kicking, Petrino feels good about sophomore kicker Zach Hocker. He’s hit 16 of 19 attempts this season, with seven makes on nine attempts from 40 or more yards. Hocker has a 50-plus field goal to his credit, a make from 51 yards against Vanderbilt.

“I’m very confident in Zach. He’s been a great player for us,” Petrino said.

Kansas State counters with junior kicker Anthony Cantele, who is 17 of 22. Cantele connected on 4 of 6 from beyond 40 yards, including a 50-plus yarder.

Beyond the kicking game, both teams can boast of strengths on special teams.

Kansas State ranks No. 10 nationally in kick returns. Much of that success is due to freshman Tyler Lockett, who was lost for the season in November. He returned 16 kicks for two touchdowns and averaged 35.2 yards per return, which ranks first in Big 12 history.

Arkansas has certainly enjoyed some success on returns this season. Dennis Johnson, Marquel Wade and Joe Adams all have touchdown returns to their credit.

Adams has three punt returns for scores. Currently, the Razorbacks rank No. 15 nationally in punt returns thanks to Adams’ 16.19 average.

“You probably are not going to have the success you hope for if you are not prominent with your special teams,” Snyder said. “There’s a dramatic feeling by most that it’s an absolute must that you play well on special teams.”

Petrino more or less echoed that sentiment. No doubt Petrino understands the role kicking can play in a game. Remember the Liberty Bowl victory to end the 2009 season? Arkansas was praising its kicker, while East Carolina was lamenting missed opportunities.

It will be interesting to see how the Razorbacks respond to losing special teams coordinator to John L. Smith, who left for Weber State. Steve Caldwell has assumed the title and Petrino said the team has spent some additional time on special teams.

“Certainly in every game you play, special teams play a big part,” Petrino said.



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