Ben Queen/Metronews photo

Jordan Thompson didn’t fumble his punt returns against Oklahoma State, but he did make an ill-advised fair catch at his own 3-yard line.


MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Like a cursed spot sure to inflict braincramps and misjudgments, the 3-yard line at the north end of Mountaineer Field became a landmark of much consternation and cussing for West Virginia’s special teams on Saturday.

It was the destination to which Ronald Carswell retreated on his second-half kick return. It was the same point where Jordan Thompson back-pedaled into a fair catch even as some 50,000-plus home fans bellowed “Nooooooooooo!”

Through five games, West Virginia ranks 110th nationally in kick returns (18.06 -ard average) and 102nd on punt runbacks (4.0 yards). Special teams coach Joe DeForest has not spoken to the media since the Sports Illustrated scandal broke three weeks ago alleging player payments at Oklahoma State, but WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen acknowledged what everyone can plainly see—that the return game has been inadequate.

How peeved is Holgorsen with kick returners who too frequently leave the offense pinned inside its 25?

“I think our kick returners are garbage,” he said.

“It’s not the front line. A lot of times guys catch it and run it and get drilled because of (poor) blocking. But the front-line people, the blocking, the scheme, they’re all good. We have yet to find guys who can catch it and run.

Though Carswell owns West Virginia’s longest kick return of the season at 36 yards, he has bobbled several catches near the goal line, allowing opposing coverage units to converge with every wasted millisecond. After Carswell’s ground-giving miscue to open the second half against OSU, DeForest sent out Wendell Smallwood and Charles Sims on the next kickoff.

On four returns this season, Smallwood has averaged 20.5 yards, while Sims has only two runbacks for 15.5 yards. Mario Alford, whose punt-return fumble at Oklahoma led to the Sooners’ lone touchdown, has averaged 15 yards on three kick returns.

“We had open auditions on Sunday night,” Holgorsen said. “I would anticipate a couple of new people back there.”

While WVU has lost two fumbles on botched punt returns, the low point Saturday involved not a drop but Thompson losing awareness of field position and fair-catching a punt that should have gone for a touchback.

“Bone-headed,” said receivers coach Lonnie Galloway, who gave Thompson a world-class chewing on the sideline. “When you’re on the 10 as a punt returner, don’t back up. He knew that and he gave me some excuse, so we dealt with it in a calm way.”

WVU clung to a slim a lead over OSU when field-goal kicker Josh Lambert had a 50-yarder blocked and a 34-yard attempt sail wide right. Yet the redshirt freshman regrouped in the fourth quarter for successful tries from 27 and 34 yards.

“He probably did so well, because I didn’t yell at him,” Holgorsen admitted. “I would’ve yelled at him a year ago, but I promised coach (Joe) DeForest that I wouldn’t talk to the kickers.”

Holgorsen wasn’t joking about his vow of silence: “I did promise DeForest I wouldn’t talk to the kickers, and I haven’t.”

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  • Tusker

    Harpers Ferry, wow! Good for you Pal, good for you.

    Fair weather fan.. I'd put down your monthly salary you do not hold a piece of paper from WVU.

  • JaneM

    I remember game

  • tw eagle

    The worst special team snafu (my opinion) was the 94 Miami game ... blocked WVU punt in last 2 minutes allowed Miami to score and win the game ... these back breakers have been following the Mountaineers for what seems like forever ... I (my opinion again) think it's a fault of the WVU crowd ... laugh if you will, but it seems the biggest special teams failures have happened after a BIG Mountaineer play . . .an offensive scoring play or a big stop made by the D ... the team, much like the crowd , goes into a relaxed mode and loses its focus ... possessing an unspoken attitude of "this game is ours now " , or "this is gonna be a cake walk" ... it rarely works out well to relax physically or mentally before the FINAL whistle ... I think it was yogi Berra that coined it ain't over till its over.

    • tw eagle

      I need to correct the date of the aforementioned Miami game . . .it was 1995, not 1994 . . .on the other side of the special teams coin . . .the best play , and one that really got the attention this youth , was in the pitt game 1959 (right year this time) . . .Mountaineers backed up inside 5 yard line late in 4th quarter . . .lining up in the west end on 3rd down , the WVU center snaps the ball between the QB's legs to the FB who launches a quick kick that rolls almost to the 50 . . .had the Mounties punted from the end zone protection probably would have given pitt opportunity for a good return . . .the best part . . .
      it was my first pitt game , better still , it was the first time Mountaineers had defeated pitt in Old Mountaineer Field . . .it had probably been 30 years between wins against pitt in Morgantown . . .I can only guess , but I bet mickey Furfari could confirm that this was the date of the first couches being ignited in celebration across the WVU campus . . .

      Let's Goooo Mountaineeerrrsss ! ! ! !

    • Bob Smithers

      I have to agree with you on that one tw.Wvu had Miami by the scrotum in that game and gave it away.I always thought,with the D playing like they were,that they should have just went for it on 4th down and take their chances instead of risking a blocked punt.However,we know how that ended up.I fired Don Nehlan several times that night and dang near put a skillet through my tv.

  • John weaver

    In my mind Carswell has to correct one major flaw and create one good habit and he will be fine. If you note in the Osu game he was almost always one yard or one yard and a half behind where the ball landed. This means he cannot get any momentum forward in his returns and most importantly he cannot reliably handle the ball without fumbling. He needs to judge the ball in the air better. The other thing he needs to do is not move backwards. This happens more easily by judging better where the ball will land when it is in the air.

  • Bryan

    Maybe you're right, not. To begin none of the above mentioned are garbage, if Deforest couldn't coach do you really think he would have survived in the ranks this long, eventually he will find returners that do not make the mental mistakes that have occurred do far.

    • Joe blow

      Look at Lane Kiffin. Enough said.

      • Bryan

        Look at him, ok, has not been around as long as Deforest and couldn't do his job in the NFL or NCAA, which proves my point, you can't be around as long as Deforest and not be able to coach. So one last question, how has Deforest survived coaching 25 years if he's so terrible of a coach?

  • Tim38

    DeForest was the DC last year and the defense finishes last in almost every category. He gets moved to special teams and now they are near the bottom in every category. This guy just can't coach.

  • DubV Daddy

    Ok so our kick returners are weak. That's easy to sit in your chair on your fat butt and talk trash about a guy who is trying to catch a football, remember where he is on the field while the other team is bearing down on him. It's a lot harder than it looks. We were spoiled with tavon. He is a spectacular player. We will get better on all 3 sides of the ball and when we are right..... Watch out. I love my Eers and will go to the grave rooting them on. I don't believe we can win it all this year, but we will be a force in the Big 12 now and be dominant soon. So before you criticize these young men who let it all hang out 12 months a year, get off your fat but, go grab another donut and a beer and think about it. Let's go Mountaineers!!!

    • David J.

      Seems as though 109 other returners are not having quite the same problem.

    • WV07

      You're an idiot.

  • Joe blow

    Maybe the players aren't garbage. Maybe Joe DeForest is garbage. Everything he touches turns to garbage. Seems to me that his paycheck could be better spent by giving Patterson a raise.

    • Dave

      AMEN!!!!!! Worst defense in the nation last year. Basically the worst special teams in the nation so far this year. I wonder if Tavon and Stedman were here this year if he could mess them up as well ?!?!?!?!

  • pghmountaineer

    Tusker, that's a good point. It makes me crazy when I see players celebrate like they just made a catch to win the Super Bowl.
    Just catch the damn ball and do your job. Let your performance speak for itself. I'm tired of the showboating. No class to that at all.

  • Dougie

    Kick returns have definitely been a weak spot all year. Hopefully they are repping these like crazy. I don't think everybody is cut out for it, and some guys just don't want the job. Freshmen probably shouldn't be in the mix. Once we find the right guy it will be fine.

  • Tusker

    Each one of these returners should hang there head. I could've reached through the TV and choked Carswell for his celebrating a decent catch like he had just caught the game winning TD in the Super Bowl.

    This after he fielded a punt earlier in the game and ran 8-10 yards towards his own end zone. Lose the short memory. Learn how to play intelligent football.

    • tw eagle

      Carswells' attitude and play on the field only certifies coach Sabans decision to deep-six this individual from the Alabama program ... will the WVU coaching staff be intelligent enough to make the same decision come the springtime ... and another ugly thought ... Why was mc nally welcomed back into the WVU program ? he certainly proves that just because you are 8 feet tall and run fast doesn't mean you have any talent for playing football . . .maybe coach Huggins can find a
      spot for a tall fast guy with no heart for the game.

    • Harpers Ferry

      Sounds like another fair weather fan. OUR, and I use the possessive because I like to think I'm part of the team, returner is the BEST in college. Didn't you doubters learn your lesson last weekend? You are either with us or against us! WVU is winning it ALL this year. Don't dare criticize Holgerson because he's the best football coach EVER! Better than Lombardi, better than that Bear guy (the guy that has that TV show right?). I said a couple weeks ago that Childress was going to win the Heisman, but it was a typo, I really said Trickett. Darned autocorrect! Childress will finish second in the voting. If I could, I'd give you fair weather fans a blanket covered in Small Pox. LETS GO MOUNTAINEERS!

      • Greg

        So now we know William lives in Harpers Ferry.

      • WV07

        The guy had a great just turned it into a "let me spew about my opinion show" You can criticize the joke of a kick return team we have this year and still be a fan.

        • Harpers Ferry

          It's called sarcasm. I know, it's a big word. I'm having fun with the week-to-week reaction of "the sky is falling. No it's not, we are the best team ever and and any sort of criticism means you are not a 'real' fan." Or has having fun been frowned upon and outlawed by Obama as well?