Special Teams Miscues Lead to WVU Loss - WVU Football, WVU Basketball, News - Mountaineer Sports

Special Teams Miscues Lead to WVU Loss


There's plenty of blame to go around for what took place on Mountaineer Field Saturday afternoon. Feel free to pass some along to the offense and give a heavy dose to the defense. The coaches can share in it as well.

But don't forget about the WVU special teams, because it isn't very often that it gets to shoulder so much of the responsibility.

"We felt pretty good about special teams coming into the game," head coach Dana Holgorsen said after the loss.

In some phases, he had reason to feel that way. Punts had been solid of late and the field goal unit had only missed one attempt all year.

Yet those two aspects of the special teams were precisely what killed the Mountaineers against Louisville.

Michael Molinari, who had been a shining star at punter for the Mountaineers since taking over for season starter Corey Smith, was as bad as he's been all year. His three punts averaged just 20.7 yards and he immediately drew jeers from the fans that thought the shanked attempts were behind West Virginia.

As he jogged off the field after his second poor punt, Holgorsen glared at him, motioning for him to get to the bench and seeming to point elsewhere as though to say that Smith would be back on the field next time the team needed to punt.

Holgorsen confirmed this afterward, but there were no other opportunities to punt from that point on.

The defense was put at a disadvantage as a result of the field position Louisville was able to start with. West Virginia had the momentum heading into the final minutes of the first half, but after an 11-yard duck from Molinari, the Cardinals had just over half the field to drive to tie the game heading into the locker room.

"Our punt team, obviously, was horrible," says Holgorsen. "They [Louisville] posed some problems. They brought pressure and the fact that we, when we had to punt, we didn't get it accomplished, that was incredibly disappointing."

If you're looking for a turning point, though, that came on the leg of Tyler Bitancurt.

Early in the third quarter, the Mountaineers had a chance to take a three-point lead on a 32-yard field goal and Bitancurt pulled it wide left. The next time Bitancurt had a chance to attempt a field goal, he probably wishes he had just missed it.

Instead, a chip shot from 23 yards was blocked at the line of scrimmage and Louisville's Andrew Johnson took it 82 yards the other way for a touchdown and a 10-point lead.

"You march down the field and get one blocked for a touchdown, that's a 10-point swing, which if you look at the score means something," says Holgorsen. "If that wouldn't have happened, we would have gotten the points and them not, we probably would have been pretty happy right now."

Instead, you could hear shouts of joy coming from Louisville's locker room and shouts of anger from West Virginia's. Many of the players who were likely doing the shouting for the Mountaineers may not have been responsible for the special teams miscues, but they certain each take it just as hard as the next.

"It was definitely frustrating because we go over it in practice, we go over special teams so much and they just came and when they blocked it, I think that was one of the key points of the game when he ran it back for a touchdown," says Tavon Austin. "I hope we just keep working at it in practice tomorrow, keep working hard."

But according to Austin, these mistakes don't exist in practice. Molinari punts well, the field goals sail true and the kickoff coverage team tackles every return man. The difference is what it really counts, and that was the difference in Saturday's outcome.

In each of WVU's three losses, the opposition has had a special teams touchdown. Against LSU and Syracuse, there were momentum-stealing kickoff returns. Now the Cardinals introduced a new type of return to the mix and the results were just the same.

Looking at those plays in each setback, the Mountaineers have had their eyes opened to just how much of an impact special teams can have on the outcome of a game.

"They've been open since LSU when we saw how close that was and it was the same thing as what we're in now," Austin says. "They've been open, everybody been seeing it, they just made big plays."

West Virginia had its share of big plays, too, but none that were big enough to overcome the glaring issues that continue to plague the Mountaineers on special teams.  

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