After WVU’s 31-24 season opening loss to now-No. 18 Virginia Tech, Mountaineer coach Dana Holgorsen was mostly upbeat.
Yes, there were mistakes. There were drops. There were the penalties, which he covered in Tuesday’s press conference. But, hey, West Virginia and Tech put on a heck of a show. Also, the future looks bright for WVU with East Carolina, a 24-point underdog, visiting Morgantown on Saturday. The two Mountaineer games afterward involve Delaware State and Kansas.
Yet before WVU overwhelms its next two opponents, let’s revisit a few concerns from last Sunday’s showdown with Tech, a worthy opponent, one that will more closely resemble the Big 12 competition.
They are, not in a particular order…
Special teams — I know. Those two words are like brain freeze after a snow cone for Mountaineer fans. After last season, Holgorsen promised WVU would do things differently in that area.
Well, after Game 1 — which, admittedly, isn’t a representative sample size — West Virginia is No. 96 nationally in net punting (35.44 yards), next to last of 127 teams in punt returns (minus-3 yards) and not ranked in kickoff returns because Tech’s Joey Slye simply kicked off out of the end zone and into Baltimore.
Of course, if you watched the game you noticed WVU punter Billy Kinney wasn’t physically right. Holgorsen later said he was cramping.
“From what I got, his calf was cramping,” added special teams coach Mark Scott. “He had an issue with that last year. We need to make sure he’s taking care of his body throughout the week. If it’s extra stretching or a nutritional issue, we need to start on Sunday.”
Apparently there’s also a physical issue with scholarship punter/kicker Jonn Young because Scott said Luke Hogan, a redshirt freshman, was Kinney’s backup on Sunday. “We didn’t feel comfortable putting [Hogan] in that situation,” Scott said.
“I know Billy can be more consistent and we need him to be more consistent, in terms of distance, hang time and placement,” Scott said.
As for punt returns, Gary Jennings didn’t choose to run one and Tevin Bush lost three yards on his one attempt.
“We knew their punt coverage team was one of the better ones we’ll face all year, but there were some short kicks and our returners need to go up and field the ball,” Scott said. “We addressed that with the guys [Monday].”
Remember too that WVU kickoff man Evan Staley once put the ball out of bounds for a penalty.
“I thought he did a fairly good job,” Scott said. “The one that went out, he got under it a little bit.”
Defense — While WVU’s passing offense and total offense sit at No. 15 nationally on this day, defensive coordinator Tony Gibson’s unit is tied at No. 96 with North Carolina after allowing 469 yards.
“Disappointed,” Gibson said. “I thought we let one slip away. I could tell during the game we played extremely hard and physical, but we didn’t play smart.
“They had three plays of 120 yards and three touchdowns. Whether it was blown coverages or missed gaps, that was the ballgame.”
“We had two [blown coverages] that [Tech] capitalized on and give credit to them. Their freshman quarterback [Josh Jackson] didn’t make a mistake and everybody going into the game, including myself, thought we could rattle him at times.”
Gibson said he used five linebackers, four safeties, three corners and six linemen.
“When you go back and watch, 69 snaps of 72 we played really good football,” he said. “Three snaps got us.”
Stadium operations — This one wasn’t on WVU, but FedExField in Landover, Maryland. The home of the Washington Redskins was anything but inviting to those filing in for a terrific game.
Fans on both sides complained via social media and afterward about the snarled and, many times, bungled traffic control as well as inefficient entry processing. Some handling traffic sent fans to the wrong lots without bothering to look at the parking passes. And around game time, pictures were put up of a huge bottleneck as folks tried to get into the stadium. Only allowing cars in at 3:30 p.m. for a 7:30 game was also cause for consternation.
“The Redskins ran the parking and we have received many complaints, as has Virginia Tech,” said WVU athletic director Shane Lyons. “Both schools told them they needed to open gates earlier.”
Lyons said the promoter was “not happy” and “knows for future games this needs addressed.”
The AD said next season’s WVU game in Charlotte, North Carolina, against Tennessee should run smoother with trains running from the suburbs. He also said Bank of America Stadium will run that game’s audio and video. Virginia Tech, designated as the home team in Landover, was in charge of that Sunday, which upset many Mountaineer fans. When WVU played BYU, the Mountaineers were in charge.
My suggestion: Always have the home stadium operational folks handle that and split the audio and video 50-50.
Not that difficult to figure out.