West Virginia Football’s Biggest Strengths In 2019: No. 7 – Placekicker
(Editor’s Note – We previously took a look at West Virginia’s top 10 biggest question marks heading into the 2019 football season. In the second half of this series, we now turn our attention to what we perceive to be the top 10 strengths of Neal Brown’s first Mountaineer squad.)
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7. Placekicker – The Big 12 football conference gets a lot of attention for producing play-making quarterbacks and glue-fingered receivers, but one under-appreciated position of strength around the league is placekicker.
Last season, the top field goal kickers for each of the Big 12’s 10 teams all made over 60 percent of their FG tries and every one of them converted at least one field goal of longer than 40 yards. Eight of the 10 made a kick of longer than 45 yards, and four drilled at least one from 50 or more.
West Virginia’s Evan Staley was among this power-footed contingent in 2018, as he made 80 percent of his field goal attempts (16-of-20). He was a perfect seven-of-seven from inside 40 yards and nine-of-11 from 40 to 49 yards. His four misses came from 51, 53, 44 and 40 yards, but he did make two career-longs of 49 yards.
In 2017 as a redshirt freshman, Staley was thrust into the full-time placekicking role at midseason when previous the starter, Mike Molina, suffered an injury. Staley was solid the rest of the way, making six-of-seven field goal tries, though he wasn’t asked to attempt anything longer than 36 yards. The Romney, West Virginia, native showed he had range as a sophomore, and now as a junior he may be counted on for even more clutch kicks.
With Will Grier and company leading a Mountaineer offense that averaged 40.2 points per game in 2018 and 34.5 points per game in 2017, WVU didn’t have many last-second nail-biters. Of West Virginia’s eight wins last season, all but two (42-34 at Texas Tech and 42-41 at Texas) were won by at least 16 points. The Mountaineers did suffer a couple heart-breaking defeats (45-41 at Oklahoma State and 59-56 vs. Oklahoma), but in neither was Staley given an opportunity to make a game-deciding field goal. And the close victories in Lubbock and Austin were decided by a pick-six and a Grier run respectively, and didn’t come down to a Staley kick.
In fact West Virginia hasn’t needed a last minute goal to pull out a win since 2014 when Josh Lambert actually nailed buzzbeaters twice – a 47-yarder to win at Maryland, 40-37, and a 55-yarder a few weeks later to defeat Texas Tech, 37-34. Of course, for every positive there is also a negative, and later that season TCU used a 37-yard Jaden Oberkrom field goal to emerge with a 31-30 win at Mountaineer Field. WVU hasn’t won at the gun via a field goal since ’14.
With an offense that doesn’t appear to have as much firepower this coming season than it did last, West Virginia may face a slimmer margin between success and failure. If so, every three points could be vital. And if that’s the case, the Mountaineers should be pretty confident in the foot leading to those FGs and PATs. The biggest question at the position will be who backups up Staley. Redshirt freshman Casey Legg and true freshman Kolton McGhee are likely be the top competitors for that job.
A former walk-on from Hampshire High School, Staley made 12 straight field goal tries to conclude the 2018 season, including eight from at least 43 yards. He wrapped up the year by hitting all four of his field goal attempts in the Camping World Bowl Game against Syracuse, a single-game mark bettered by just two others in school history – six by Frank Nester in 1972 and five by Ken Juskowich in 1967. The bowl game in Orlando did feature Staley’s first missed PAT in 76 career attempts.
Despite the one bobble on an extra point, Staley is rated by Athlon 2019 preseason magazine as the second best placekicker in the Big 12 behind only Texas sophomore Cameron Dicker. The 6-foot-1, 188-pounder enters 2019 as a strength for a young Mountaineer offense that can use every positive it can get. The fourth-year junior has the experience of having played in 25 career games and has performed at a very high level. He’s converted 81.5 percent (22-of-27) of his field goal tries in his career, which is the best percentage in West Virginia history for anyone with more than 20 attempts. The only WVU placekicker all-time who has even made better than 75 percent of his field goals attempts is Paul Woodside (74-of-93 from 1981-84), who converted 79.6 percent.
The only thing Staley hasn’t been asked to do yet is face the pressure of attempting a game-winner. If that happens this year, the Mountaineers should feel pretty good about the odds.
Previously In The Series