As there must be. Through five games, West Virginia ranks No. 104 in the country in kickoff coverage. That's the bad news. The good news is that only six teams in the country have kicked off more than the Mountaineers. As long as they keep scoring and kicking off so much, is that really a bad thing? And it means even more practice during games.
Unfortunately, kick coverage isn't WVU's only special-teams issue. Somehow the punt team moved up a spot in the national net-punting rankings this week, but only from dead last to next-to-last. Corey Smith punted only once, but for the second week in a row his first attempt was a 14-yard shank out of bounds that set up an opponent near midfield and led to a score.
"We worked on not shanking the ball [Sunday],'' Holgorsen deadpanned. "That's an open competition and Matt Molinari [the backup punter] will get some reps to see if he can do better than what Corey did.''
Smith's job as the kickoff guy might also be in danger. He kicked off eight times against Bowling Green, but he was one of those fired guys, too, eventually. Field goal kicker Tyler Bitancurt kicked off the last two times and was even spotted punting into the net on the sideline once.
Holgorsen, though, said it was unlikely Bitancurt - one of the special-teams bright spots with a 90 percent success rate (9-of-10) on field goals - would ever be asked to kick field goals and PATs, kick off and punt.
"That's tough to do all three. There's not many guys who can do that,'' Holgorsen said. "Tyler is doing a good job and he was our special teams player of the week. He's been solid and consistent. We had no issues whatsoever putting him on the kickoff team. He's been doing that in practice all year. But the kickoff swing and the PAT/field goal swing are similar. The punt swing is completely different. We're not going to do that at this point.''
The bottom line is that there are five significant special-teams units - kickoff, kickoff return, punt, punt return and field goal/PAT (the field goal-PAT block team is also in there, but that one is hard to judge statistically). Four have not been very good.
West Virginia's kickoff and punt teams have been atrocious. The kickoff return and punt return teams rank high (Nos. 31 and 17, respectively), but only because of two runbacks. Take away Tavon Austin's 100-yard kickoff return against Marshall and his 64-yard punt return against Norfolk State and WVU's rank in those categories would be Nos. 102 and 51, respectively. LSU pinned West Virginia inside its 20 six times because of the Mountaineers' inability to return punts.
Then again, as long as the offense keeps churning out 600-yard days and the defense forces five turnovers, it's not that critical. And the Mountaineers keep getting more practice, not during the week, but on Saturdays.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickm...@aol.com.