Dunlap: Good Start on Kickoffs
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Jeff Casteel admits it's always nice when his defense has more than half of the field to defend, as was the case during last Saturday's 31-0 whitewash of Coastal Carolina - WVU's first defensive shutout in nearly five years.
The last couple of years after Mountaineer scores, Casteel's crew would typically huddle around the 50 yard line because that's about where they expected to take the field after the kickoff team was finished chasing down the return man.
Either a poor kick or shaky coverage was usually the culprit, but against the Chanticleers last Saturday, West Virginia kicked off six times and the best Coastal could do was a return to the 27 yard line.
"That group did a great job," said Casteel. "The kids played with some aggression."
Steve Dunlap, now fully in charge of the kickoff team, said Saturday's performance doesn't necessarily indicate a trend, but he admits it was a good start nonetheless.
"There were a lot of things that we need to correct and as the season goes on there will be more difficulties for us, so we have to get better each week," he said.
Dunlap explained that kickoff coverage is not something you can practice regularly because it is such a high-impact type of play.
"You go out there and do eight to 10 of them and you won't have any players left," he said. "We went back to fundamentals - how to beat blocks and that sort of things."
Because it is not a play you can practice regularly, there are many unknowns the first time 11 guys go out onto the field to kick the ball off.
"The first game we didn't know what they were going to do and they didn't know what we were going to do," Dunlap admitted. "I was working all week on a five-man front and they came out in a six-man front so, of course, there were a lot of adjustments that went on in that first game."
Actually, the adjustments have been going on for months. In addition to getting better personnel on the kickoff team, the coaching staff decided to come up with an entirely different concept for kickoff coverage this year.
"There was quite a bit of time spent," Dunlap said. "It's the teaching aspect as well as actually going out and doing it. We broke it up into parts and put all of the little pieces together to make the big piece better. We coach it like defense. Who is going to block you? What blocks do you have to beat?"
Dunlap said some of the veteran players were also sick and tired of seeing teams constantly starting drives in great field position, so several of them came into his office and volunteered their services.
"They said, 'Hey, we don't want to start on the 50 this year,'" Dunlap said.
One of them was junior safety Robert Sands, whose forced fumble on the opening kickoff of the second half led to West Virginia's second touchdown and a more comfortable 17-0 lead over the Chanticleers.
Dunlap says he has no problem seeing one of the team's best defensive players out on the field during kickoffs.
"He's out there wide so he doesn't get hit as much," Dunlap explained. "If you look, the wide guys are real athletic guys - guys that play on the edges - those are the guys that try and keep them from having big plays. The warriors are the guys inside, the threes, fours and fives. The guys that run down the middle of the field are the tough guys."
Yet the real key to West Virginia's success last Saturday, according to Dunlap, was the length and height of Corey Smith's kicks. All but one of his six kickoffs reached the goal line.
"Corey's hangtime was close to four seconds and if he didn't have the bad one he would have averaged the 2.8 yard line, so that's pretty good," Dunlap said. "Even with the bad one he averaged the 5 ½ yard line."
Dunlap and Casteel both agree that another superb performance will be needed this Friday night against Marshall.
"Marshall busted a big one against Ohio State, and they have some kids that can get down the field," Casteel warned.
"We grew up a mile and a half away from each other on Teays Valley Road," said Dunlap, who coached one season at Marshall in 2007. "I wish him the best in every game but one."
Dunlap said the two have always been on the same teams all the way back to their high school days, usually winning many more games than they lost.
"He's a competitive guy and so am I so we always liked to win," Dunlap said. "He will fight you over a checkers game. That's just the way it is."
Asked if close friends will fight a little harder, Dunlap cracked a smile and shrugged his shoulders. "It's really not about me and Doc," he said. "It's about our players against their players. The players play the game. That's a sidebar I guess and it makes people feel good, but that's not really what the game is all about. It's about coaching your players and getting the most out of them."
Dunlap will concede Doc will have one big advantage on Friday night - an intimate knowledge of West Virginia's offensive and defensive systems and players.
"They know absolutely everything about us because several guys on their staff were here and we've got very little information about them," Dunlap explained. "We've seen them play one game (a blowout loss to Ohio State that revealed very little of Marshall's game plan because the Thundering Herd got behind so quickly). Bill Legg is a heck of an offensive coordinator and he's got a lot of stuff in his goody bag that we haven't seen very much of. We can guess and what not, but there will be things that we haven't seen."
Dunlap also knows Marshall will give maximum effort for the entire 60 minutes.
"I've been on both ends of this deal so I've seen it from both sides," Dunlap said. "I guarantee you with guys like Bill Legg, Chris Rippon and Doc … they will play hard."
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