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WVU Special Teams a Very Pleasant Surprise in Neal Brown’s Debut



WVU Punter Josh Growden celebrating after his first punt as a Mountaineer is muffed by James Madison returner D'Angelo Amos and was recovered by Exree Loe to setup WVU inside JMU territory. (Photo by Jonathan Stanley)

Morgantown, WV – Cries have come out from the Mountaineer faithful for years about a lack of proficiency and detail on the special team units. How could it be forgotten, that at one point under the previous coaching staff, WVU refused to put a punt returner on the field simply because there was no one on the roster who could safely field one? If the game against James Madison is any kind of sign, those days of fear are a thing of the past.

After a three and out on the Mountaineers’ first drive of the game, a wall of WVU players swarmed All-American returner D’Angelo Amos, forcing a muff on the very first punt off the foot of LSU transfer Josh Growden. Sophomore linebacker Exree Loe dove on the ball and regained possession for WVU.

In his first game at WVU, Growden was outstanding keeping Amos in check. Using a left-footed rugby-style kick to keep the ball out of the reigning FCS Special Teams Player of the Year’s hands, giving up just four yards on two returns by the junior. The Mountaineer kick coverage team was extremely effective as well, allowing only three kicks to be returned for an average of twenty-three yards per return. Patrick Mannelly Award watchlist member Rex Sunahara was a standout in one of the most under the radar parts of the game at long snapper. Sunahara provided quality snaps for both Growden and Evan Staley while also making a pair of tackles on the punt unit.

With JMU threatening to extend their lead early in the game, Fairmont native Darius Stills came up huge, blocking what looked to be a chip shot field goal for Dukes kicker Ethan Ratke. This stop was key in keeping James Madison to seven first-quarter points, a number made more important by the scoreless second quarter put on by the WVU defense. Ratke and punter Harry O’Kelly dealt with Mountaineers in their space all day as the WVU coverage teams were able to penetrate the Duke protection time and again and force pressure.

On the kicking side for WVU, Staley had an efficient day, finishing two for three with makes from 38 and 43 with his lone miss being a 49-yard boot on the Mountaineers’ opening drive. Staley and Growden made an impact on field position as well, keeping JMU’s average starting field position to their own thirty. Growden, a native of Sydney, Australia, average just over forty yards per punt and pinned the Dukes inside their own twenty once while another kick resulted in a touchback after nearly being saved in an outstanding play by safety Josh Norwood.

It is often said that the best-coached college football teams are those that have high-level special teams units. If that old cliche is to be believed, then the West Virginia Mountaineers will be a very well-coached program throughout head coach Neal Brown’s tenure in Morgantown. Week One games can be tough to decipher and many times, the product is very different by the end of the season. However, it is hard to ignore such a drastic improvement in one area of the game of football as Mountaineer fans saw today with the new-look WVU special teams units.


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