By Andrew Glover
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Oklahoma State University coach Mike Gundy has been waiting for junior Justin Gilbert to break a kickoff return for a touchdown. Saturday the coach got his wish as Gilbert scored on a 96-yard return, putting Oklahoma State up 20-7 against West Virginia.
“I mentioned to the team that it sure looks nice when he breaks through there because when he breaks through, whoever is chasing him is going to have a hard time catching him,” Gundy said. “He’s pretty when he runs through there full speed. I thought the return was executed to perfection.”
“We had a new scheme going in,” Gilbert said. “We’ve been working on it for two days and caught on pretty fast. We executed it pretty well.”
This kickoff return wasn’t just for a touchdown — it made history. Gilbert broke Perrish Cox’s record for most kickoff returns for a touchdown in OSU program history and tied the Big 12 record with his fifth.
“That’s great,” Gilbert said. “I was aware of (the record) but I wasn’t pushing for it. Most important thing is getting the ball and putting the offense in good field position.”
In his sophomore season, the cornerback returned kickoffs from 96 and 100 yards for touchdowns. On West Virginia’s next kickoff they kicked away from Gilbert, who managed to return a second kickoff 31 yards for 127 total. Entering Saturday’s game against Texas Tech, Gilbert has 2,532 career kickoff return yards, putting him 272 yards from holding the all-time school record. After nine games this season, the junior corner is averaging 30 yards per return, giving Oklahoma State starting field position at its own 30 or better.
“(Special teams) can make you or break you at this level,” Gilbert said. “We work on it every day. We do it two to three times a week. Field position is the most important thing. I think changing up the scheme helped us.”
Gilbert wasn’t the only one on special teams making key plays. After OSU’s fourth touchdown, senior kicker Quinn Sharp’s kickoff bounced off a West Virginia player and Oklahoma State recovered at the West Virginia 14-yard line. Sharp capped off the drive with a 26-yard field goal. West Virginia’s Tavon Austin muffed a Sharp punt and the Cowboys’ Teddy Johnson recovered at the 11 of the Mountaineers. Junior Clint Chelf capitalized with a touchdown pass to Charlie Moore.
“We schemed differently,” Sharp said. “Austin is a dangerous returner. We’ve seen on film where they’ve kicked away from Austin and they’ve pitched back to him and he’s run the other way. We were just trying to keep it out of his hands as much as possible. To get two turnovers on special teams that was pretty huge.”
Austin only had two kickoff returns for 20 yards and two punt returns for 12 yards. In the third quarter, Austin muffed a punt which set up OSU deep in West Virginia territory.