Special Teams Miscues Turn Slow Leak Into Blowout

Over the past two seasons, West Virginia has made steady, if not spectacular, improvement in their special teams play. That's why Saturday's collapse in the Continental Tire Bowl was a particularly nasty surprise.

The Mountaineers made mistakes in just about every aspect of the kicking game, and those miscues proved deadly in WVU's 48-22 defeat.

A chronologic look at the tale of woe follows.

After taking a 3-0 lead, WVU's kickoff coverage team gave up a 36 yard return to UVa's Wali Lundy, which put the Cavaliers in excellent field position at their own 42. Virginia capitalized on the return with a six play touchdown drive to regain the lead.

Things only got worse in the second quarter, when West Virginia punted while trailing 14-10. Mark Fazzolari's punt sailed straight down the middle of the field, where it was gathered in by Cavalier return man Marques Hagans and returned 69 yards for a touchdown. On the play at least two potential West Virginia tacklers completely whiffed attempts to bring Hagans down.

The killer play occurred late in the first half. After stopping Marquis Weeks on a third down and three at their own nine yard line, West Virginia's field goal clock team inexplicably went offsides as Cavalier kicker Connor Hughes doinked his boot off the right upright. The penalty allowed tailback Wali Lundy to power four yards for a score with only 19 seconds to go in the half.

"That was just a mental breakdown," a visibly disappointed Rich Rodriguez said after the game. "Our guys said Virginia might have moved the ball a little bit, but that doesn't matter."

In the second half, the disease spread to the placekicking game. Following a Rasheed Marshall touchdown run late in the third quarter, Todd James' low line drive point after failed to clear the line of scrimmage, leaving WVU beind by 22 instead of 21.

The mistake was compounded when the ensuing kickoff went out of bounds, giving the Cavaliers good field position at their own 35. UVa capitalized on this final special teams gaffe with a field goal that erased any faint hopes of a Mountaineer rally.

Adding up the damage, West Virginia special teams mistakes contributed, either directly or indirectly, to 25 Virginia points. That's a total that will cause a loss to just about any team in the country.

The poor special teams play was not the only cause for the loss, of course. WVU's offense, while moving the ball at some points, self-destructed in the second quarter, and the defense offered up little opposition to the Cavalier attack. However, there's no doubt that, on this day, the WVU special teams fell short of the improved standard they had set for most of this year.

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