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Final Grades: WVU’s Special Teams Play was Inconsistent in 2020

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WVU kicker Casey Legg (photo via WVU Athletics/William Wotring - The Dominion Post)

This has been an ongoing series with WVSN’s Cody Nespor and Tom Bragg grading the performance of each position group during the 2020 West Virginia University football season.

Previous grades: quarterbacks, running backs, receivers, tight ends, offensive linedefensive line, linebackers, cornerbacks, and safeties. Today we conclude the series with a look back at the WVU special teams:

CODY NESPOR

WVU’s special teams were disappointing this season, which was surprising given how much attention head coach Neal Brown spends on them. Punting was lackluster, kicking was inconsistent and the Mountaineers’ return game was disappointing.

Troy transfer Tyler Sumpter handled most of the punting this season, 37 of 46 total punts, and did a fine job. He averaged 40.5 yards per punt with 19 fair catches and 16 downs inside the 20 but he was a definite downgrade from 2019 Ray Guy finalist Josh Growden. WVU’s punt coverage was just as excellent, however, allowing opponents just 2.75 average yards on 12 returns and a long of just nine yards.

Kicking was a bit of a mess for the Mountaineers. Senior Evan Staley, how announced he will return in 2021, made 6 of 9 field goals before suffering a season-ending injury. Sophomore Casey Legg made 5 of 7 attempts in Staley’s absence, but Sumpter finished out the season, making 3 of 4. 2020 was the second year in a row WVU was forced to use multiple kickers due to an injury to Staley. Just like punt coverage, WVU’s kickoff coverage was also excellent. The Mountaineers held opponents to a 19.1 average on 36 returns, allowing one 92-yard touchdown. WVU’s own return game was very weak. On punts, Alec Sinkfield averaged 5.3 yards with a long of 22 and on kickoffs Winston Wright averaged 21.3 yards with a 37-yard long.

Long snapper Kyle Poland did a very good job replacing Patrick Mannelly Award finalist Rex Sunahara.

GRADE: C-

TOM BRAGG:

Watch enough football and you start to develop a feeling in your gut whenever a kicker trots on to the field for a field goal, and in 2020 whenever a WVU kicker made that journey from the sideline the feeling was often not a great one.

Evan Staley began the year as the placekicker, but injury forced Charleston’s Casey Legg into action. Legg missed a few attempts before Neal Brown opted to go with Troy transfer Tyler Sumpter the rest of the way. The injury was unfortunate, but it’s not like Staley’s status as the start was on firm ground before it. Any time you have to use three kickers in a season, something went bad.

Sumpter was decent enough as WVU’s punter this season, but certainly far from spectacular. Same goes for kick and punt return teams — nothing outright terrible but nothing great either.

Silver lining: punt coverage was great and long-snapper Kyle Poland was pretty good too.

GRADE: D+

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Tom Bragg covers WVU, Marshall, high schools and other sports for West Virginia Sports Now. Tom spent more than a decade as a sports journalist based in West Virginia covering high school, college, youth and professional sports for newspapers in Huntington, Fairmont and Charleston before joining WVSN in 2020. Tom is a graduate of Marshall University's W. Page Pitt School of Journalism and Mass Communications.

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