^The special teams unit is one of the most important yet often overlooked aspects throughout a football game. At any level, a team’s ability to execute successful plays with the special teams can win a game. For example, Alabama boasts
one the best special teams in the nation and are consistently in the playoff picture.
Under Dana Holgerson, the Mountaineer special teams have lacked consistency. Most notably,
returning the ball on punts and kickoffs. In 2016, West Virginia was ranked 124th out of 128 division-one teams in yards-per- return. They were also 120th in punt return yards-per- game. The kickoff team was better, but not top-50. The
Mountaineers averaged 21.16 yards-per- return which placed them tied for 56th in the nation. These areas must
improve for the Mountaineers to be successful. Here is a list of players I feel could impact the game
Let’s take a look at the players responsible for improving the special teams.
Gary Jennings (Punt Returner)- Gary was only a sophomore last season. He was also playing one of the toughest positions in the entire game. Coming into his junior season, look for Gary to be more aggressive with the ball and make better decisions.
Jovon Durante (Punt Returner) – Jovon has maybe played at the position once. However, with the speed
and athleticism he shows in games, he could be a spark. Blockers can only hold their blocks for
so long and with his quickness, Jovon can drastically reduce this time and add yards.
Jovon Durante (Kickoff Return)-Yes, Durante deserves recognition twice on this list. With the loss of Shelton Gibson, Jovon is primed to fill his role completely and be the lead returner for the Mountaineers. Jovon has the perfect blend of speed and running ability to give West Virginia a boost in the kicking game.
Field Goals – PATs
The Mountaineers did not miss a single PAT during the 2016 season, so it is hard to really analyze this
aspect of the special teams. However, let’s look at the personnel:
Mike Molina (Jr.)- As a junior, Mike was a perfect 51-51 in PATs. Look for Mike to be the lead guy the entire season. No underclassmen will play barring injury or suspension. The Mountaineers missed eight of their 24 field goals last season. Mike Molina also oversaw this too. Look for him to improve and add more consistency to his kicking as a senior.
Bill Kinney, a Morgantown native, will assume the starting punter position again in 2017. Last season as a redshirt sophomore, Kinney averaged a Big XII 4th best 41.7 yards per punt on 59 total punts.
Kickoff and punt coverage is more of team job, so the standings of the team are important in this. West
41st in opponent yards-per- punt return
44th in opponent yards-per- game
103rd in yards-per- return
110th in yards-per- game
111th in total kickoff yards
So, the Mountaineers have a lot of work to do on kickoff coverage. The Mountaineers have improved in recent years on
punt returns, so look for them to improve even more. Dana Holgorsen has been on record of saying the two
deep is the best it has been. This means the players playing on these coverage teams should also be
better. Look for these awful numbers to improve because of the better players.