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."