WVU Special Teams Turn Around - WVU Football, WVU Basketball, News - Mountaineer Sports

WVU Special Teams Turn Around

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Devin Jones, MORGANTOWN -

Heading into this season, question marks surrounded the special teams unit for the Mountaineers.

Nine games later, and we have an answer.

After a miserable season a year ago on special teams, it has been a drastic turn around to date. Gone is kicker Tyler Bitancurt, and in is true freshman Josh Lambert. Last season, Bitancurt finished the season 11 of 19, and missed several key extra points, including two in a one point home loss to Oklahoma a season ago, 50-49.

Lambert has lived up to the hype. The freshman from Garland, Texas has been pretty impressive in his first season at West Virginia. Lambert is 13-17 on the season, but three of the kicks missed have been over 50 yards. One of the field goals made was a 34- yard game winner last weekend in Fort Worth against TCU.

The pressure situation field goal has proven time and time again throughout all levels of football to be a difficult kick. Most kickers practice those situations, but Lambert says he's not one of them.

"I honestly never practice those," said Lambert. "Every kick is the same."

Special teams coordinator Joe DeForest says that this type of mindset in a kicker is the first he has had in 25 years of coaching.

"I've never had a guy like this," said DeForest. "Josh is a flat liner. He does what he's told. Half the time he doesn't even know how long it is."

DeForest also says that he and Lambert do not bring up the word pressure when referring to a kick.

"We never mention the word pressure," said DeForest. "I feel like if you mention it, that creates pressure, so we just never bring it up."

Another surprise this season on special teams has been sophomore junior college transfer Nick O'Toole. The punter, known as "boomstache," booted a ball nearly 70 yards in his first game as a Mountaineer. He has since cooled off, but the average punt yardage has increased nearly five yards from a season ago, from 38.8 yards per kick to 43.

In their first season as Mountaineers and in the Big 12 Conference, Lambert and O'Toole have already been awarded Special Teams Player of the Week by the conference. Lambert was awarded the honor on Monday after hitting three field goals, including a game winner against TCU.

The Mountaineers return home this weekend to take on a red hot Texas Longhorns team that has won five straight games. The special teams play could be critical to getting a win on Saturday night. It starts with being fundamentally sound, and according to punt returner Jordan Thompson, catching the ball is his first priority.

"You have to catch and possess the ball first," said Thompson. "You can't make a big play without that."

Since taking over the role in the middle of the season, Thompson has done everything possible to secure the role. While no explosive returns have happened yet, he hopes that he can make a big play.

"I always visualize making the big play," said Thompson. "Making a big play can be game changing, and that's what I look to do every time I catch the ball."

Thompson, known as "squirt," will look to make his first big play as the new punt returner when the Mountaineers welcome Texas to Morgantown this weekend.

The game will be nationally televised by Fox, and kick-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. eastern time.

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