WVU has improved specialists

With West Virginia University’s annual Gold/Blue Scrimmage behind us, it is time to evaluate what fans witnessed and just what head coach Dana Holgorsen and his staff need to accomplish before the Mountaineers return to practice in August.

First, up for review is the special teams.

Coordinator Joe DeForest had to be excited, as well as concerned, at what his units accomplished on Saturday.

Mario Alford’s 99-yard return of the opening and only kickoff of the scrimmage for a touchdown whetted the appetites of fans hoping to see more of the same in 2014. But, it also had to give the former defensive coordinator reason for concern that his kickoff coverage unit surrendered yet another score.

The punt return unit also appears to be a major concern as the Mountaineers prepare for their season opener against Alabama in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta on Saturday, Aug. 30.

Six times the defense forced the offense to punt the ball and each time the return unit either called for a fair catch or allowed it to hit in front of them and roll for additional yardage, pinning the offense deep in its own territory.

WVU was among the worst in the Big 12, and the country, in punt returns in 2013, averaging a pathetic 3.2 yards on 19 opportunities. The results left DeForest still searching for answers.

“Jordan (Thompson) does a nice job of catching the ball, but he still has a long way to go,” DeForest said. “We tried a lot of players back there this spring and we will continue to try different players until we find someone who we can count on to make plays.”

Fortunately, those were the only hiccups in the kicking game as punters Nick O’Toole and Mike Molinari respectively averaged 46.7 and 45.0 yards per attempt on their three punts apiece.

Returning placekicker Josh Lambert nailed all three of his field goals – the final one coming from 53 yards away.

Those efforts brought a smile to Holgorsen’s face during the post scrimmage interview session.

“We’re pleased overall with our special teams play this spring,” said the head coach. “Nick has done a great job this spring and seeing Josh nail one from 53 yards out after having one hit the upright from about the same distance in Charleston was nice to see.”

The fourth-year head coach then looked in the back of the room where Molinari was sitting in preparation for the player interviews that followed.

“Then, there’s my good friend Michael (Molinari). He’s been pushing everybody this spring. About the only thing he has done wrong was on that opening kickoff.”

To which the Parkersburg South graduate responded.

“I was going to make the tackle, but I saw that he (Alford) was wearing the same colored uniform so I slowed up.”

Contact Jim Butta at jbutta@newsandsentinel.com