Improving Execution, Confidence Hand-in-Hand For WVU Kickoff Team
MORGANTOWN, W. Va. — West Virginia’s kickoff team is a prime example of sticking with a plan and working hard for improvement. Although the Mountaineers have had issues at times this year with this unit, as it has seen four kickoffs sail out of bounds, it is limiting opponents to just 21.5 yards per return, and hasn’t given up a runback longer than 44 yards. Those are numbers that assistant coach Mark Scott would definitely take for the remainder of the year.
He is also happy with the improvement overall since the start of the season — something he sees as as synergy between performance and confidence. Execute successfully, and confidence grows. With more confidence, pressure to perform is lessened. Kickoff specialist Evan Staley has shown both, and had a stellar performance in the Texas Tech game.
“His worst kickoff was the five-yard line, and [everything else] was more than four second hang time and outside the numbers,” Scott said of the goals that Staley met. “His biggest thing is confidence overall. Now he’s seeing that when he does his job, [everyone] does better. Our coverage team was really, really good.”
Scott mentioned Marvin Gross (special teams champion for the week) as well as Shane Commodore, Jovanni Stewart and Ezekiel Rose as standouts, but in reality it takes solid performances by all 11 members to make coverage teams good. One blown assignment and the returner can be out the gate and up the field. Rose, the mobile defensive lineman, is on the kickoff return and punt teams as well, and provides the ability to get downfield and break up double team blocks that often form at the point of the return.
The punt team has also had some ups and downs, with Jonn Young coming in for Billy Kinney in each of the last two weeks for one kick. While Scott continues to push execution as a key, he also doesn’t see a change in the starter at this point.
“Billy’s been a little inconsistent and Jonn really punted the ball well last week. We want to create as much competition as we can at every single position – offense, defense, and special teams. If Billy had some inconsistencies, then we’re going to throw Jonn in there and give him a shot. Again, he’s got to be able to take advantage of those opportunities a little bit better and execute. We’re going to continue to push those guys moving forward. Billy’s going to be our guy moving forward, but it’s going to make both of those guys better if they’re both preparing with the mindset that they want to be the guy.”
Young had a shortish 38-yard punt in his one try against Texas Tech. Kinney averaged 39.3 yards on three kicks.
Recognition is also a key for special teams, and WVU’s were 1-2 in that area against the Red Raiders. Scott praised the kickoff team for its performance in that area, noting that the squad had its eyes in the right place, which allowed players to avoid blocks early and get downfield. Things weren’t quite as good for the punt return team, which missed an indicator on Texas Tech’s successful fake punt.
“It was a look we hadn’t seen. They came out there in a formation they haven’t shown, which should put us on high alert,” Scott explained. “We had two guys off the left edge and Derrek Pitts off the right. He got held up a little bit, and he needs to do a better job of coming to the edge and making sure that that punt goes away or, if not, then he’s forcing it back inside to where we’ve got two free guys coming off the edge. The main thing is situational awareness. It wasn’t something where we were dropping out and had no idea. We had people free off both edges. We’ve got to be aware and be better in our execution.”