Magic Numbers

The goals for West Virginia's special teams are plain to see, as they are prominently posted on the wall of the team room in the Puskar Center.

As there is constant debate on how effective the Mountaineers' special teams are, we thought it would be interesting to take a look at each target and see how close the 2005 edition of WVU's third units are to their marks.

Before we start, keep in mind that these are aggressive goals. Just because a measurable isn't met doesn't mean that the team in question is a failure. Like any other stats, these can be used to help make a determination, but shouldn't be depended upon to tell the whole story.

For each game, there are several statistical areas that are easy to measure and quantify. We'll look at those first.

Net 40 yards on punts with no blocks

This one's certainly a lofty goal, as only four teams nationally are above the 40-yard mark in net punting. WVU is a solid 33rd here, averaging 36.14 yards in net punting. Perhaps more importantly, the Mountaineers have not had a punt blocked, and have not had a touchback on a punt so far this year.

Overall, while the Mountaineers haven't reached the 40-yard goal, the punt team has done a very good job this year.

Average ten yards per punt return

West Virginia easily exceeds this standard. The Mountaineers are averaging 16.1 yards per return thus far, and have two returns for scores (Thandi Smith's block and recovery counts as a punt return).

Hold opponent punt returns to five yards

Again, a tough standard. Only 14 teams hold their foes to five yards or fewer in this play phase. West Virginia isn't one of those, but is in the hunt, yielding 7.15 yards per return, good for 38th nationally. The good news is that WVU hasn't yielded a touchdown or a big play on punt returns. The longest runback of a punt this year has been twenty yards.

With the roll punt and some timely directional kicking, the Mountaineers have also prevented the other team from running back many punts at all. WVU opponents get fewer than two chances per game to return kicks – and that's the best punt coverage method of all.

Block at least one kick

Of course, no team is going to average a blocked kick per game, but this is still a worthy goal. Smith's punt block against Rutgers is the only rejection the Mountaineers have manufactured thus far, but there have been a couple of close calls that were a hair's breadth from going the other way.

A bit more attention might need to be paid to the kick blocking team, because WVU's foes are 8-8 on the season in field goal attempts against the Mountaineers.

The final four items on the list aren't as easy to measure with existing stats, so we'll call a halt at this point for a review. WVU exceeds one of the four listed goals we've discussed, and is in the ballpark on two others. Overall, the Mountaineers have ranged from solid to very good against these standards.

Up next, we'll look at the remaining four items on the list and provide some additional thoughts and commentary on how West Virginia's special teams are doing so far in 2005.

What are your thoughts? Is WVU doing as well on special teams as we think they are? Share your opinions on our message boards.


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