Punt Prep

Most football fans know players on offense and defense spend time watching film of opponents' tendencies to get a feel for what they might see on game days. But film study is important for punters, as well. WVU's Gregg Pugnetti has to learn how opponents might bring pressure at him and figure out what he can do to keep blocks from happening.

The senior is spending significant time in the film room in preparation for his last home game as a Mountaineer, trying to decipher the rush he expects from Rutgers.

That was something West Virginia head coach Bill Stewart spent time addressing at his press conference on Tuesday, as the Scarlet Knights have blocked six punts this year and have recovered two of those blocks for touchdowns. RU has also returned a punt for a score this season.

"We watch some film, because we've got to know how hard they bring the rush, because that changes up how fast I've got to go and all that," Pugnetti said. "I like to stick to my own thing, because I don't like to change too much, lose my own focus."

"We watched some [Tuesday]," the punter said of his preparations for Rutgers. "I'll watch more. But they like to do that twisting stuff. They bring guys off the wing. I just have to watch some stuff and make sure I'm good with it."

While it's always a bit nerve-wracking for a punter to know the rush is coming, the pressure Rutgers is likely to be shouldn't be anything totally new to Pugnetti.

The Fairfax, Va., native faced a full-on rush on every attempt against Louisville, as Cardinals coaches thought they had found a weakness in WVU's protection scheme. But Pugnetti responded well, averaging 44.9 yards per kick against the Cards and placing two inside the 20-yard line.

While those statistics don't jump off the page, in a game that was a defensive struggle (West Virginia ultimately won 17-10), Pugnetti kept field position in his team's favor. By not allowing U of L players to get a block, he ensured Louisville's offense would have to drive the length of the field against the Mountaineers' stout defense.

He earned Big East special teams player of the week honors for his performance in the immediate aftermath of the victory over the Cardinals.

"Everything has to be a little quicker," Pugnetti said of the adjustments he has to make when facing a heavy rush. "Sometimes, I don't get the ball all the way spun [around]. I quicken up my feet and I quicken my angle, so I'm not going into the rush.

"Sometimes, the [steps] are quicker, if [the rush] is coming off the back side. If they're coming front side, I'll take less steps and try not to go into it, not roll."

But the punter isn't the only one who makes adjustments based on the opposing rush. Pugnetti said when it became clear Louisville was going to bring pressure on every kick, Stewart personally tweaked the protection scheme in the middle of the game.

The change wasn't drastic. In fact, it was rather elementary.

"He changed the formation of the punts, where we put our guys," Pugnetti recalled. "So it gave me a little more time, but they still were coming every time.

"Since they were coming, you know, off the back side hard, he just stuck another guy there. It made [the rushers'] angle a little wider, so it gave me that extra split second."

While there's always stress involved in knowing pressure will be coming, Pugnetti said it's actually far worse when teams who show certain tendencies on film do something different entirely when the game actually begins.

"With Louisville, I actually liked it, because I knew it was coming," he said. "So I was just like, ‘Get it off.' I was confident. The ones I'm not ready for is when we watch film, they don't do it at all, and they'll randomly put it in there, and I have to adjust."

But there's little doubt going into Senior Day at Milan Puskar Stadium that Rutgers will, like Louisville be a team that tries to get to Pugnetti before he can get a punt away.

The former walk-on hopes to avoid giving WVU fans any negative reasons to remember his final outing at Mountaineer Field. Like any other senior, he wants to go out on top.

"I'm trying to focus on Rutgers and what I've got to do, but once the game comes, it's going to be a little emotional," Pugnetti admitted. "You know, I've spent a chunk of my life here working, and it's hopefully going to be a good feeling at the end."

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