Share This Page

Special attention to special teams for WVU

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — It's hard to imagine a more one-sided special teams battle than the one last weekend between West Virginia and LSU.

The Mountaineers consistently were pinned deep in their territory, averaged just 33 net yards per punt and allowed a back-breaking 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

"They pretty much had their way with us on special teams," senior cornerback Keith Tandy said. "(The coaches) always told us punts and kickoffs are the two biggest plays in football. People would laugh at it, but now we know how big of a play they are."

West Virginia is looking to improve all aspects of its special teams play Saturday against Bowling Green after struggling through the first four weeks.

The Mountaineers special teams rank last in the nation in net punting, 116th in punt return yardage defense and 88th in kick return yardage defense.

Coach Dana Holgorsen said the problems aren't schematic; there's a lack of trust among the players on those units.

Redshirt junior punter Corey Smith has struggled, averaging 40.5 yards per punt. Four of his punts have gone for less than 32 yards, including two that have traveled less than 15 yards.

It's unclear whether Smith will be the long-term punter, but there already have been changes. A number of starters are now on kickoff and punt coverage, as Holgorsen looks for more impact plays.

"I think the main thing is people don't have as much pride as they used to when they go out there," said Tandy, who started the season on punt coverage and was added to kick coverage this week. "When you go out there, you have to want to make the tackle or want to make the block. You have to want to be the person that changes the game."

Bowling Green, meanwhile, has thrived on special teams. The Falcons lead the nation in net punting, averaging 45.29 yards per punt.

"I don't know if we can win that punting battle," Holgorsen said. "They're No. 1 for a reason."

West Virginia has the benefit of a solid punt returner in Tavon Austin. The junior is fourth in the nation, averaging 22 yards per return. He hasn't attempted a punt return in the past two games, but Holgorsen is confident in Austin's game-changing abilities.

"I've got complete confidence in Tavon to be able to get that done," Holgorsen said. "We've got to do a better job of holding people up."

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.