We have come to the fans’ seemingly last thought of many college football positions: Special teams.
Luckily, through most of our recent memory, West Virginia football has enjoyed relative success, if anything, reliability, in kickers. That reliability, however, has been missing on the return side of things.
In 2016, WVU football hopes to be able to use the kick and punt return games as ways to maintain field position while dealing with some transition in the punting game.
Firstly, Mark Scott, the assistant coach in charge of special teams, will have to replace a very consistent punter in Nick “Boomstache” O’Toole.
From the looks of things, Billy Kinney will be that guy. The redshirt sophomore is a Morgantown native, averaging just more than 41 yards per punt for University High School. Honestly, that’s not a bad average—four yards less than O’Toole in 2015, but two years to improve leg strength should see that number tick up.
Backing him up will be John Young, who is a freshman from Advance, North Carolina, and played for the much-beloved Davie High School. He’s the most likely to take over the team’s facial hair prowess.
The seemingly sure-thing heading into the 2016 season became unsure in the offseason. Back in April, it was reported that senior kicker Josh Lambert would be out for three games for breaking Big 12 eligibility rules. We still don’t really know what all this means. In his stead, Mike Molina will kick field goals and kickoffs. He has yet to kick a field goal in a college game, but is 2-2 on PATs and had three touchbacks in 2015 and 31 in 2014.
This is concerning because WVU plays two games in that stretch that could come down to field goals. With Missouri’s stingy defense and BYU’s talented offense, points will be at a premium in both games and a missed field goal could prove costly. Is Molina as reliable as Lambert has been?
Kick and Punt Returners
The most frustrating part of WVU’s special teams the past two seasons has been the horrific return gaffes. In fact, I can remember a game in 2014 where a no-returner set was the most brilliant coaching move Dana Holgorsen pulled ever.
In 2015, the WVU returners were at least…fielding the ball cleanly? Hard to be excited about 5 yards per return, but keeping the ball after stopping the opposition is a positive. Luckily, WVU is returning all but KJ Dillon as kick returners.
Gary Jennings appears to be the man who will be most trusted to field punts and kickoffs, with both Shelton Gibson also sharing responsibility. We’ll also most likely see Jovan Durante get a try at returning as well.
The request for WVU’s special teamers this season is pretty simple: be reliable. With an offense that should improve and a defense that might take a while to gel. If the kicking game can keep the field position battle in our favor or if the returners can break a big return a game, that can really help out a team that will need that magic to push itself over the 7-win hill.
All stats from WVUsports.com