WVU Hopes To Press Brown On Punts

Rutgers returner Tim Brown dropped a pair of punts in the Knights' win over South Florida. That alone will modify West Virginia's plans during change of possession plays.

The Mountaineer coaching staff, depsite in insistence of Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano that the return team is not yet set, still expects Brown to be back on punt returns. What they are also betting on is that RU, knowing WVU's penchant for the rugby kick, might also add wideout James Townsend, Dennis Campbell – who replaced Brown in the fourth quarter versus USF only to nearly drop a punt – or another skill player into the return mix, allowing Brown to cover less distance to catch a punt and giving the Knights one short and one long returner. West Virginia has often used the rugby kick in the past against Rutgers, but, because of Brown's recent miscues, might have kicker Pat McAfee place more punts high and deep to test the sophomore.

"We did a big, extensive self-study, and we did some things to (Rutgers) in the past we haven't done lately," assistant head coach and special teams coordinator Bill Stewart said. "We did more roll kicks against them for punts. We spent more time now doing more booming kicks and letting Pat hang it. We have a lot in our arsenal."

Brown only recently moved into the fray on special teams. He has returned just two for four yards, while Campbell has brought back four for 37 yards (9.2-yard average) and backup running back Mason Robinson returned three for 18 yards, a six-yard average. Brown has flashed the best quickness and ability to hit the hole, something Rutgers uses on kickoff returns. Brown has handled 13 of those, three more then the rest of the team combined, and averaged 22.5 yards. The Scarlet Knights have not returned any kicks for scores, with the longest punt return going 20 yards. RU does have a 56-yard kickoff return.

"(Brown's drops) change the thought process of our coverage team," McAfee said. "As opposed to giving up on a fair catch call and letting the guy catch it, you are more prepared for the ball to hop out. It doesn't change much with me, but more our coverage units."

West Virginia studies game film on itself and its foe from at least two or three years prior to try to pick up on tendencies. The Mountaineers have, for whatever reason, attempted many more rugby punts, something Stewart will get away from on at least one of the first few punts. WVU is averaging 37.6 yards per punt, with McAfee taking 21 of the 23 (fullback Owen Schmitt quick-kicked twice). Six of McAfee's punts have landed inside the 20, and four were touchbacks, likely the reason his 37.8-yard average is lower than one would anticipate. The junior kicker acknowledged he needed to perform better against Rutgers, and that placement, both on punts and kickoffs, would be a key. West Virginia has struggled recently in the latter, allowing Syracuse a pair of long run backs after giving other teams solid field position as well.

That was a primary focus going into the off week prior to the Mississippi State game. The Bulldogs averaged 18 yards per return, right in the area of the 16-18 WVU would like. West Virginia punted five times for 184 yards while allowing MSU three run backs for just 22 total yards, a paltry 7.3-yard average. McAfee averaged nearly 40 yards per punt, and the longest return was 11 yards. That showed some statistical improvement, but Stewart notes both that players were still not in the proper lanes at all times and that Rutgers will be more of a challenge.

"It's coverage and technique and responsibilities where we are struggling, like on kickoff," Stewart said. "They have to do their job and keep leverage. We have two or three new heads in there to see how they do. We got a plan if they go one returner, we got a plan if they go two returners. They will run us out of the stadium if we don't play smart, aggressive special teams football."

West Virginia ranks seventh in punting in the Big East with a 32.8-yard net and seventh in kickoff coverage with a 39.2-yard net average, meaning foes normally get the ball, after it is kicked from the 30-yard line, on their own 31. Only Syracuse is worse, netting 39.0 yards. Rutgers is second in the league in kickoff coverage, with WVU's return units ranking a surprisingly low seventh. RU is last in punting and fourth in punt return average, at a 35.4-yard net average and an average of 9.6 yards per return, respectively.

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