Are the WVU Special Teams Improving?


Special teams are an important component of football. That fact shown brightly this past Saturday against TCU. Even though it was a special teams play that cost the Mountaineers a win, Coach Holgorsen still believes that as a whole, the special teams are improving.

"It’s about the same people; they are just getting better at it. We’re talking about a lot of young guys. Nick Kwiatkoski and Garrett Hope are great on kickoff. (Shaq) Petteway was good on kickoff. Austin Copeland is another true freshman that played for the first time and is getting better; he played on all four special teams. You have to have a lot of people that can play those special teams and get better at it. I thought Coach (Steve) Dunlap did a great job of that last week. I thought we covered punts better than we have since I’ve been here. They were the No. 1 special teams team in the Big 12, and we got one out on them. – Coach Holgorsen"

November 3, 2012; Morgantown, WV, USA; TCU Horned Frogs cornerback Jason Verrett (2) blocks a field goal attempt by West Virginia Mountaineers kicker Tyler Bitancurt (40) during the second overtime at Milan Puskar Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE

As Coach Holgorsen correctly points out, the Mountaineers have greatly improved in kick and punt coverage teams. In losses to both Texas Tech and Kansas State, WVU got gashed by kick and punt returns. WVU’s poor kick and punt coverage has cost them greatly in field position, making it even more difficult on the struggling defense to keep opposing offenses out of the endzone. Against the Horned Frogs, the Mountaineers improved their kick and punt coverage, forcing TCU to have to drive longer fields for scores.

WVU, and more specifically Tavon Austin, has been great in the kick and punt return aspects of special teams in recent weeks. Austin took a kickoff return to the endzone against Kansas State three weeks ago. This past Saturday against TCU, Austin ripped off a 76 yard punt return score that should have sealed the game for WVU. So in this regard, WVU is doing better.

What Holgorsen’s quote does not reveal is just how poorly WVU has done at kicking field goals as of late. Part of the blame obviously falls on the leg of Tyler Bitancurt who has really struggled as of late. For the 2012 season, Bitancurt has converted only 40% of his field goals, going 4 of 10 to date. Bitancurt got plenty of opportunities to redeem his season against TCU, but he had one of the worst games of his career, converting only 1 of 5 field goal attempts.

Not all of the blame can fall to Tyler Bitancurt though. As was painfully demonstrated in the first overtime period versus TCU, the WVU field goal protection unit has been performing quite poorly. The consistent plague of this unit in 2012 has been the inability to keep opposing players from rushing round the end. WVU has had kicks blocked now in games against Texas and TCU, both as a result of a speedy defensive back being able to cut the edge and dive in the path of Bitancurt’s kicks.

That trend suggests that there is a fundamental blocking scheme issue with the field goal unit. It seems overly simple that the edge blocker would be able to get a piece of the edge rusher, enough so as to slightly alter the defender’s trajectory to the ball.

Those issues in blocking scheme must have a psychological effect on Bitancurt as he has failed to convert field goals that he would normally make. For Bitancurt to snap out of his funk, he will need to have confidence in his unit’s ability to neutralize edge rushing threats.

Coach Holgorsen knows that this is the key issue with a unit he describes as being improved.

"It’s the sour taste in our mouth from the snap and the kick that nobody is happy about. – Coach Holgorsen"

If the sour taste continues and WVU is not able to successfully convert field goals, the losing will continue. Coach Shannon Dawson will need to take a serious look at his field goal protection schemes to ensure that WVU does not fall victim to