Posted by Tony Caridi on Friday, July 31, 2009
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I recently asked for your three big questions heading into the upcoming Mountaineer football season. The responses covered 21 different topics, ranging from inquiries about the often talked about gold uniforms to whether I will say “it’s a great night to be a Mountaineer” 13 times this season. The answers to those are, yes, I’m sure we’ll see the gold unis, and no, I won’t say it 13 times because that’s a phrase used only for special wins.
Granted, it’s always a great time to be a Mountaineer, but overuse diminishes something special. It’s the same reason why your mom didn’t break out the family china for breakfast everyday. But I digress.
As for the big three questions, there was actually a tie for third. Here we go:
1.) Will the offensive line be good enough to win?
2.) Will special teams be any good?
3.) Will we be better in short yardage?
3a.) Will the coaching staff be up to the challenge?
Offensive Line: Despite losing three starters, this unit has a chance to grow into a solid and capable line. Program insiders will tell you that new starters Donny Barclay, Josh Jenkins, and Jeff Braun are more athletically gifted than their predecessors, but simply lack game experience. There’s no argument that the line’s development is the biggest story/question of the preseason. Equally important is the development of a second string on the line. True freshman Jordan Weingart (6-2, 290, Gainesville, Fla.) will have an opportunity to make the two-deep.
Special Teams: There seems to be a perception that all of last year’s special teams were bad. Actually that’s not true. WVU led the Big East in field goals and PATs, and was second in net punting. The problem came in kick return coverage where it was dead last, and in punt returns where it was seventh. The kick return average was fifth.
I agree, this is one of the big questions heading into the season. Much time was spent on special teams development during the spring and there will be changes made in both scheme and personnel. It’s very likely the Mountaineers’ coverage and return units will be much improved this season, but punting and field goal kicking productivity could decrease. The truth is that WVU lost an NFL-quality kicker in Pat McAfee. Scott Kozlowski has patiently waited his turn and will do just fine. He has a career average of 39.5 yards per punt on 16 punts, but hasn’t seen action since the 2006 season. He was rated the nation’s No. 1 punter coming out of high school. The field goal kicking question is a total unknown. Tyler Bitancurt will get the first opportunity. He redshirted last season and was injured during spring practice. Transfer Josh Lider from Western Washington has been added to the roster. He’s the only kicker that has actually performed in a college game.
Short Yardage: Yes, the Mountaineers will be better in short yardage. There are a couple of reasons why we’ll see improvement. A year ago the Mountaineers were just too young at the fullback and tight-end position. Tyler Urban and Ricky Kovatch were forced to play as true freshmen. Talented Ryan Clarke needed a redshirt season. Clarke emerged as the big back WVU so desperately needed during spring practice. Improved maturity, coupled with a great deal of time devoted to short yardage situations during spring and fall camp, will make WVU a much better short yardage team this season.
Coaching Staff: Yes the staff is ready for the challenge. This is a staff that knows how to win. It’s a unit that has combined to win 37 conference championships, four national championships, and has a total of 231 years of college coaching experience.
History has also been favorable to second year coaching staffs at WVU. There have been six head coaches at West Virginia since Gene Corum assumed the reigns from Art Pappy Lewis in 1960. Five of those six coaches either won more games, or equaled their win total, from year one to year two. The only coach who failed to win more games in year two was Bobby Bowden, and things had a way of working out for him over the long run.
Thanks for all your tweets. I’ll be using Twitter all season to keep you updated on what’s happening with the Mountaineers. If you’d like to follow, just click the link below and we’ll tweet together.