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TEXAS FOOTBALL NOTEBOOK: SPECIAL TEAMS ARE A PRIORITY.

Byline: Walter Hammerwold Staff Writer

BEVERLY HILLS - USC's kicking game has been inconsistent all season, while Texas' kick coverage ranks among the best in the nation. Texas coach Mack Brown believes the Longhorns will hold a major advantage if Wednesday's Rose Bowl comes down to special teams.

``We felt No. 1 that to be able win a national championship you've got to be as good as anybody in the country on special teams,'' Brown said. ``And that's an area where we were OK (in the past), but we lost a game at the start of the season in '99 because of blocked kicks. It really was fortunate because it made us put more emphasis on it.''

Brown said the success Virginia Tech had through ``Beamer ball'' led him to place an emphasis on special teams. After seeing how Hokies coach Frank Beamer had ridden aggressive special teams play to national prominence, Brown decided to commit starters to his kick-coverage units.

The Longhorns have blocked 43 punts, field goals and PATs since 2000, more than any other team in the nation - and have blocked nine kicks in their past six games.

``One of the first things we started doing was taking Roy Williams, who was a great wide receiver, and putting him on punt block and punt return team,'' Brown said. ``It was very controversial when we first did it, but it was also something that sent a message to all of our other kids that if Roy Williams can play on this team, then I can sure play on it. And it became a popular thing to do.''

Brown said other starters, seeing the success Williams had on special teams, began to compete for playing time on those units. Now, starters routinely fight for special teams roles, and the coaching staff prefers to sit a tired player for a play on offense or defense rather than resting him on special teams.

``They're so talent-laden when they put their special teams together,'' USC coach Pete Carroll said. ``They have terrific athletes in every spot. They're fast, they're explosive, they're playmaking guys.''

Brown said many questioned why he would risk the health of starters by putting them on special teams. Advice from former Texas coach Darrell Royal, however, validated his decision.

``There was a lot of talk about, 'How dumb are you to put Roy Williams on special teams? He may get hurt,' '' Brown said. ``And I asked coach Royal and he said, 'I should have put (1977 Heisman Trophy winner) Earl Campbell on. He blocked a punt the one time I put him on punt-block team.' ... To think that a special-teams play is not as important in scoring as a regular-down play is foolish.''

--Taking the heat: Brown on Friday tried to deflect some of the criticism Vince Young has received for comments he made during the Heisman Trophy ceremony, saying that he had not properly prepared his star quarterback for such a scenario.

Brown said he did not expect broadcasters to interview anyone but the winner after the voting results were announced because none of the other finalists were interviewed after Texas running back Ricky Williams won the Heisman in 1998.

``What a tough thing, when you want to win a Heisman your whole life, and you're sitting next to two guys that win it, and you're playing them in a bowl game, and then everybody's jumping up and screaming,'' Brown said. ``It's like a beauty pageant. And you're standing there on national TV by yourself and you're supposed to hug and kiss them and be happy. I've seen those little girls standing next to the winner at a beauty pageant, and they do that and then they cry.''

Brown said he was proud of Young for answering questions about his disappointment honestly instead of providing a cliched answer, even if his comments have been construed as poor sportsmanship by the media.

``He's a very prideful young man,'' Brown said. ``And in that moment, when someone asked 'Are you disappointed?' I think sometimes we ask questions we know the answer to. And here's a 20-year-old who gave the honest answer, and that's so refreshing to me.''

Walter Hammerwold, (626) 962-8811, ext. 2239

walter.hammerwold(at)sgvn.com

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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Dec 31, 2005
Words:713
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