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Mountaineer Minute: WVU Needs Continued Special Teams Work

September 29, 2011
By JIM ELLIOTT , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

MORGANTOWN - West Virginia might have been involved in the most lopsided special teams game in the history of college football last week in a 47-21 loss to then No.-2 LSU.

''We've got to do a better job of holding people up,'' coach Dana Holgorsen said. ''The people on LSU's punt team, mainly No. 7 (Tyrann Mathieu) and No. 17 (Morris Claiborne), were pretty good players. They got down the field and they made things happen. We've got to find where our No. 7 and No. 17 are in regards to the punting and kickoff teams.

''We've got to put some guys like that in there.''

Article Photos

LSU's Morris Claiborne returns a punt for a touchdown against West Virginia during the third quarter of the Tigers' defeat of West Virginia University in Morgantown on Saturday. (AP Photo/Jeff Gentner)

Could those guys be starters who have not played on special teams for the Mountaineers?

''We're not going to make wholesale changes,'' Holgorsen said. ''The guys we have are the guys we've got. We can only coach them to get better. We'll work hard on it. We're not going to hit panic mode.''

OK, but if they do, there are some volunteers.

''On that one kickoff, everyone was standing on the sideline single file like 'I should have been on the field,' '' cornerback Pat Miller said. ''If you're out there on that field, you've got to take every play like that's your last play.''

Keith Tandy, the preseason All-Big East corner on the opposite side of Miller, agrees.

''You feel like you could have made a change out there,'' he said. ''A lot of times, the younger guys are not used to being in the game.''

It doesn't help that Bowling Green comes to town this week with the nation's best net punting unit, as Brian Schmiedebusch leads the country at 49.06 yards per punt.

The key may be getting returner Tavon Austin to field a few. He didn't do so last week, which is why LSU's Brad Wing was able to continually land them inside the 20, and often inside the 5.

''Tavon does a great job of catching the football,'' Holgorsen said. ''There's a lot of ground to cover. As quick as Tavon is, that doesn't mean that he can go field every one of those. LSU's punter did as nice of a job as anyone I've seen as far as where he placed it.''

Smith talks improvement

Receiver Stedman Bailey has played a lot of football with quarterback Geno Smith, as the two were high school teammates Miramar, Fla.

After Smith completed 38 of 65 passes for 463 yards last week, Bailey put all the factors together - mostly that LSU owns one of the nation's top defenses - and concluded it was the finest performance he'd ever seen from ''Eugene.'' And those two, along with receiver Ivan McCartney, won a lot of games at Miramar, with Smith helping more than a few receivers earn Division I scholarships.

''He's what makes us go offensively, obviously,'' Holgorsen said of Smith.

If there's a better performance out there, Bailey figures the offense will have to go full-go from the start.

''If we could start the tempo from start to finish and have the defense play to our speed, then things could probably get ugly,'' he said. ''There were probably some times where we probably slacked down a little bit (against LSU). That's not good. I feel like we need to do a better job of coming together for four quarters and having a good tempo throughout the game.

''With the offense, the sky is the limit. As long as we go out and execute, we can probably have days like that every Saturday.''

Smith tried to take a minute to remind everyone the season is still in diapers.

''We've only played four games,'' he said. ''We're nowhere near where we want to be and we're not satisfied with what we've done. There's a lot of mistakes we've made. We want to be 4-0 right now. But that's not the case so we've got to progress and not take stuff back.

''This offense has tremendous possibilities. It's just up to us. I think we have guys who really understand how good we can be and what we can do if we all collectively come together and work hard.''

Is this game good for WVU?

From a fan's standpoint, going from playing the No. 2 team in the country at night to playing a MAC team mid-day induces yawns. But the Mountaineers won't go to sleep on the Falcons.

''I think it's good,'' Holgorsen said. ''We've got a lot of guys from Ohio and there's a lot of quality MAC opponents. These guys have won a bunch of MAC championships.

''They've been to a bunch of bowl games and, over the past 10 years, have won a lot of games against automatic qualifying members. This is a quality opponent. This isn't a fill-in game. This is a quality opponent.''

WVU Sports Hall

of Fame

The West Virginia Sports Hall of Fame will induct its 2011 class on Saturday. The ceremony will be held in the Caperton Indoor Practice Facility at 9:30 a.m. The 2011 class includes Warren Baker (basketball), Canute Curtis (football), Joseph Harrick (football, baseball wrestling and track), Jim Heise (baseball), Pat Itanyi Williams (track) and Steve Newberry (football).