Special Teams Again On Holgorsen’s Mind

FRISCO, Texas – Numbers, in sports, can be eye-catching.

Especially when they are as bad as those posted by West Virginia during a so-so 2016 campaign.

“Yeah, I became very interested in special teams,” veteran coach Dana Holgorsen said during the Big 12 Conference’s annual Media Day. “I had to do something.”

That something was turning the reigns to the Mountaineers’ Air Raid offense to first year offensive coordinator Jake Spavital.

“So, my game day stuff — and I never once questioned anything that he was calling,” Holgorsen said. “We weren’t incredibly efficient last year offensively and that’s been the sole topic of discussion from Jan. 1 until where we’re currently at. I think just watching the practices and how Jake and Will interact, and they got as good of a relationship that exists from a play caller and a quarterback that I’ve ever seen.

“I’m comfortable with where they’re at and year two is always going to become more efficient. I’m excited about watching that.

“My job is to manage people, whether it’s coaches, players, manage the game.

“Then special teams are kind of the glue between offense and defense.”

WVU was dead last in the 10-team conference in kickoff cover allowing 1,125 return yards on 80 kicks.

The Mountaineers also were ranked No. 7 in punting (38.2 net yards per attempt), ninth in punt return average (1.9 ypr), and fifth in kickoff returns (21.2 ypr).

Those numbers improved, slightly, in 2017 with kickoff returns moving up two spots to third (24.3), and kickoff coverage moving up to seventh (38.7).

However, punting remained at ninth (36.3) while punt returns dropped to last with an average of 4.8 yards per return.

But, hope is on the horizon as the Mountaineers return veterans at every position.

Redshirt senior Billy Kinney comes back for one final season after finishing sixth in the conference with an average of 40.9 yards per punt while redshirt sophomore Evan Staley returns as the team’s kickoff specialist and doubles as the team’s PAT and field goal kicker.

Fans can also look forward to another season of watching junior Marcus Simms return both punts and kickoffs.

Simms ranked only behind Texas Tech’s Keke Coutee in all-purpose yardage, finishing with 816 yards on kickoff returns, 99 on punt returns and 663 receiving yards.

“I sat down with (graduate assistant coach) (Michael) Mike (Molinari) and we went through a lot of film from last year and my biggest problem was my drop, it was really inconsistent,” Kinney said during the spring. “So, just really honing in on that drop and getting it consistent will make more of a consistent ball coming off of my foot.”

Molinari, a Parkersburg South graduate, returned to the Mountaineers after the 2017 campaign and will work hand-in-hand with Holgorsen.

“Since Molinari came back in, he has really tried to have his focus on competition and have us compete with one another, because that is what we will be doing in a game,” Kinney said. “Really just having that competition aspect to everything and trying to push us harder.”

A former Mountaineer punter, place kicker and holder, Molinari has also allowed Holgorsen to become more of a CEO with WVU this past spring.

“I spend as much time with the defense as I do the offense,” said Holgorsen. “I manage players, manage the game and special teams glues the two sides together.”