In the past few weeks, you have read a multitude of opinions regarding the things West Virginia must do in order to win the Big East title. A number of columnists, including myself, have listed our “keys” to the Mountaineers’ season.
Therefore, at the risk of adding one more key to West Virginia’s season, I am compelled to mention one more.
The Mountaineers have recently been cursed with positively abysmal kick return coverage.
Actually, to use the word “coverage” in regards to the Mountaineer kickoff unit is giving them way too much credit.
The last two seasons, this missing component of the sport has cost West Virginia several football games and at least one league title.
In fact, there is no question that West Virginia’s football team would have been better off had they chosen to kick the ball out of bounds every time. Even after the penalty was tacked onto the play, the Mountaineer defense would have played with their backsides facing the 50-yard line instead of their rears sticking into the end zone.
The Mountaineers, one of the country’s best in punt return coverage, were one of the worst in covering kickoffs, ranking 104th out of 119 teams in Division I.
This is clearly one of life’s greatest mysteries to me.
If your football team can consistently tackle people on punts, then they should be able to tackle people on kickoffs as well. However, for the past couple of seasons, it has often appeared that Mountaineers feared the opponents’ kick returners were radioactive.
Fortunately, coach Bill Stewart has wisely chosen to fire the special teams coach—also coach Bill Stewart.
His duties will now be handled by Steve Dunlap, a change of pace that is sure to be a welcome relief to Mountaineer fans across the nation.
Any improvement in kickoff coverage would be warmly embraced by Mountaineer fans. In addition, it would also increase the odds the Big East Championship would return to its rightful home in Morgantown, West Virginia.
Particularly last season, the Mountaineer prevent unit played remarkably well, especially considering how often they were placed in the hole by poor special teams play. However, the propensity to give your opponents’ offense a short field will inevitably result in a number of cheap touchdowns being scored against even the best defenses.
If Coach Dunlap can plug the holes in the West Virginia kickoff unit, instead of chasing opposing kick returners on their way to glory, then the Mountaineers could be the team that is finally off and running.