Special Teams Clash

The special teams matchup this weekend should be one of the better elements of the game between WVU and Virginia Tech.

Virginia Tech has long been revered as one of the best teams in the country when it comes to the 'third unit' but West Virginia is also making a name for itself this year with solid play in most facets of its special teams.

There are a couple of things to look for when competing against Tech in this aspect of the game. Virginia Tech has virtually owned the punt block/punt return area of the game against most of its opponents and West Virginia is no different. In last year's game in Blacksburg, Tech blocked a punt, blocked an extra point and returned a punt 76 yards for a touchdown.

WVU must execute better this year in the punt/punt coverage aspect if they are to limit big plays from Virginia Tech.

One of the main keys to stopping big plays from Virginia Tech is to limit the touches of super return man Andre Davis. Davis returned the aforementioned 76-yard touchdown for a score against WVU last year and is up to his old tricks again this year.

He comes into Saturday's contest averaging 14.5 yards per punt return with a touchdown that covered 55 yards last week versus Central Florida. His return for touchdown last year was sprung by a bone-crushing block on Mountaineer linebacker Kyle Kayden by Virginia Tech special teams spark plug, Wayne Ward.

Ward's blocking ability is cause for great concern for the Mountaineers, but not the type of block he produced on Kayden. Ward, 5-11, 210, is well known in Hokie country for his punt blocking skills. He has already blocked a punt this season, in Tech's second game against Western Michigan, and also blocked two punts last year. He added 26 special teams tackles a year ago and was two-time Big East special teams player of the week.

The Hokies blocked another punt last week against Central Florida and also recovered a fumble on a UCF kickoff return.

WVU head coach Rich Rodriguez knows the test coming up is formidable but he thinks his players will be well prepared for the challenge.

"They (Virginia Tech) take a lot of pride in it, you know they work hard at it and they want to be on it and I think our guys take a lot of pride in it," he said. "This is our first year doing it, but through the years (Virginia Tech) has been developing that type of special teams system.

"There is no question it has provided an edge for them...but we're conscious of it and we're working hard at it, but we work hard at it every week, so our guys will know how important it is every week."

One reason for WVU to be optimistic in special teams is its kickoff return unit and WVU's all-time leader in kickoff returns for touchdown, Shawn Terry.

Terry's 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown last week against Maryland gave him four returns for a score in his career breaking the record of his older brother Nate Terry. He now averages 34.2 yards per return this year, which places him fourth in the country.

The Mountaineers may also hold an advantage in a couple of other categories, one being kickoff coverage. WVU kickoff man, Todd James, has kicked nine touchbacks already this year, while Virginia Tech is averaging just 21.5 yards per kickoff return in contrast to WVU's 26.5 a return. Mountaineer opponent's starting field position after kickoffs is the 22 yard line.

Also, WVU may have the better of the field goal kickers this year. VT kicker Carter Warley has connected on just seven of his 12 field goal attempts this year and hasn't made either of his two kicks of 40+ yards. Mountaineer kicker Brenden Rauh has connected on seven of nine and connected on his only attempt in the 40-yard range but missed a kick of 50+ yards.

Obviously, against Virginia Tech all special teams are a concern but certainly the Mountaineer punt team against Virginia Tech's punt return team is the biggest threat. West Virginia hasn't allowed a block yet this season and the Hokies will certainly be looking to change that. Extra attention will have to be paid to Wayne Ward because he is their igniter and blocking punts and big plays in the special teams is what Virginia Tech thrives on.

If WVU can go unscathed in the punt game, it could disallow the lift Virginia Tech gets on a consistent basis from that group. If Virginia Tech is to make a big play on special teams it could and probably would be something that would do the Mountaineers in.



The Sharks (WVU punt return team) line up to go after the punter

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