MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Mario Alford’s 100-yard kick return against Alabama earned him Big 12 special teams player of the week honors.
The speedster was nearly brought down at his 15-yard line before eluding a tackle and skating toward the right sideline. There he found a narrow gap between the boundary and Alabama’s Derrick Henry, who was taken down on a key block by Garrett Hope.
A few yards away, West Virginia’s Justin Arndt maintained an extended block on Tide freshman linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton, and further downfield Rushel Shell flattened kicker Adam Griffith.
Over the final 70 yards, Alford showed the burst that made him a Georgia high school track champion. In the Georgia Dome stands, a contingent of family members watched Alford break the Mountaineers’ first kick-return touchdown since Tavon Austin went 100 yards against Kansas State in 2012.
“I was surprised when I broke loose, and beat the (coverage unit) to the sideline,” Alford said. “I couldn’t believe it. It was a great moment.”
Thompson’s punt-return adventure: Jordan Thompson took some heat for retreating to field a punt inside his own 10, but the returner hardly could be faulted considering he initially was set up at the 35-yard line.
When Alabama’s JK Scott blasted a 62-yarder on his first college punt, Thompson was stunned—especially since the freshman punter had been maxing out at 45 yards during pregame. Thompson covered a copious amount of ground to track down the punt while racing back toward his end zone and was dropped immediately by Landon Collins at the 6.
“(Scott) really bombed it, and I thought he hit it so far that he out-kicked his coverage by like 20 yards,” Thompson said. “And he did out-kick everyone, except for his gunners.”
Having reviewed the play on film, Thompson said he probably made the right decision.
“The ball hung in the air so long and the (coverage guys) were so close they could have downed it at the 1,” he said. “It’s one of those what-if questions.”
Touchback, no touchback: After Nick O’Toole’s first punt from the Alabama 43 bounded into the end zone, WVU received a curious spot when Alabama—penalized for an illegal block that negated the touchback—had to start from its own 5-yard line.
“I had to ask the official to explain it to me, because I’ve never seen it in 25 years of coaching” Joe DeForest said.
The explanation: Because the penalty happened inside the 20 (at the 10, to be precise), the mark-off was assessed from the spot and moved half the distance to the goal line.
Said DeForest: “Believe me, I read the rule book all the time and I never heard of that one.”