TULSA — Arkansas State University’s nine-point victory at Tulsa could be attributed to two legs.
In the 29-20 thriller Saturday in Oklahoma, ASU’s defense stymied an attempted 20-point comeback by the Golden Hurricane by forcing three turnovers and a game-saving safety that neutralized Tulsa’s fourth-quarter surge.
That safety would not have happened without punter Cody Grace.
On fourth and 1 from Tulsa’s 43, the Red Wolves opted for Grace’s leg while knowing the Golden Hurricane’s offense had gained momentum after falling behind 27-7 early in the third quarter. The Red Wolves took a 5-yard delay of game penalty to give Grace more room before he punted with 8:01 left in the game.
“I thought about going for it on fourth and 1, just there in the middle,” ASU Coach Blake Anderson said. “I just did not want to give them a short field. I felt like our punter would do his job. And he did a great job.”
Grace soared a beauty with a 27-20 lead. The ball plopped on Tulsa’s 4, and ASU’s defense had 96 yards to prevent a game-tying touchdown.
“He’s good at what he does,” Anderson said. “[He is] so calm and definitely a weapon, and puts our defense in great positions at times.”
Five seconds later came the safety when the Red Wolves sacked Tulsa quarterback Luke Skipper in the end zone.
A punter with pinpoint accuracy can be lethal. In this instance, Grace set up the clinching safety.
“It’s a huge influence,” Anderson said. “It really is.”
Grace punted the ball six time, averaging 43.7 yards per punt. Two of them were pinned inside the 20-yard line. The 6-2 Australian punter has dropped seven of his 17 punts inside the 20-yard line this season.
“To have that much trust in his ability to put the ball where we needed, I don’t think there’s a better guy in the country at pinning it in,” Anderson said.
Grace’s punt put a bow on a superb night from ASU’s kicking group, which welcomed a new face in freshman kicker Blake Grupe on Saturday.
With his first two career attempts, Grupe chipped in ASU’s first two field goals of the season from 35 and 19 yards.
The Red Wolves placed junior kicker Sawyer Williams solely on kickoff duty, hoping a relief from the two major place-kicking jobs would provide better output.
Anderson said that’s exactly what has happened.
“Obviously, we gave Sawyer plenty of opportunities to really settle in to the job, he just never did,” Anderson said. “I felt like if we just gave him the kicking job he would do better, and he did [Saturday]. He kicked the ball better tonight with just one job.”
Williams, who led the Sun Belt Conference in scoring last season with 96 points and averaged 8.0 points per game, was 0-for-2 on field goal tries from 46 and 27 yards in the two games prior to Saturday.
The job now belongs to Grupe, whose debut brought life to a unit in need of a reliable anchor.
“I told Grupe, you’ve got some time here,” Anderson said. “One kick’s not going to lose the job for you. Go out and have confidence that you’re going to get some opportunities.
“Hopefully he’ll grow and calm down and relax and be a guy that can be steady for us. I don’t know how deep, but if he can make 35-yarders for us, that would be great.”
Sports on 09/17/2018
Print Headline: ASU gets 2 legs up from special teams
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