10:06am: Talkline with Hoppy Kercheval

Infatuated with punt-unit problems? Holgorsen has the cure-all


MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen dislikes media members stepping on the WV logo inside the weight room almost as much as he dislikes watching his players commit punt-team blunders.

He comically addressed both issues Monday, the opening day of preseason camp.

“Stay off the logo!” he hollered perhaps a nano-second before the wandering tennis shoes of a cameraman breached sacred ground. When I suggested using orange cones to protect the area, Holgorsen joked, “We normally do that whenever we have foreign objects in here.”

His categorization of the media as “foreign objects” is hardly the worst thing we’ve been called, and when it comes to catching foreign objects, few have been worse than West Virginia’s punt returners.

The past two seasons recall a carousel of calamity, with four returners combining for six fumbled punts. Jordan Thompson, the player Holgorsen described last season as “the best option” at returner, has committed three of those. Talk about hang time meeting high anxiety …

The bobbles might be a tad more forgivable were the Mountaineers occasionally busting loose for big runbacks. But during those two dreadful seasons WVU has produced only three returns of 10-plus yards. Three. Out of 159 opponent punts.

That’s how a punt-return unit wound up 121st nationally in 2013 (at 3.21 yards per attempt) and 127th last year (at 3.12 yards).

Toss in the ignominy of West Virginia’s punt-coverage unit finishing 120th during 2014 and you can see why the whole episode sends Holgorsen into headset-slamming consternation. Even though he can laugh about it during preseason camp.

“You guys can go ahead and write this because this is the topic that you guys like to write about,” he deadpanned during Monday afternoon’s practice. “We caught punts for 25 minutes during practice, and we are going to catch them for another 10 minutes here in about five minutes. We will also work on Nick (O’Toole) punting the ball to where he needs to punt the ball.

“That will fix all our problems, and we should win a national championship based on fixing those things.”

Holgorsen goosing the media for becoming infatuated with punt-team foibles is deflection at its finest. He knows all too well we’ll stop obsessing over his players dropping punts when they start catching them.

For what it’s worth, the legion of guys fielding punts Monday actually, well, fielded them. There was the multi-talented William Crest hauling one in over-the-shoulder like Willie Mays. True freshmen Tyrek Cole, Gary Jennings and Jordan Adams appeared capable and comfortable, as did junior Vernon Davis. Likewise, the supremely confident KJ Dillon snagged a few, building upon the spring game performance where he essentially appointed himself punt returner for the day.

From that rotation of returners, not a single catchable punt went uncaught. On a warm day in August, this will suffice for progress—even if it was only Holgorsen himself defending in lieu of live punt coverage.

Seriously. He would position himself about 20 yards in front of each returner, and then begin charging as the punt spiraled down. Dress in a visor and polo, he actually moved pretty well for a 44-year-old gunner. (If John Flowers decides to organize an alumni football game, Holgo warrants a spot.)

But Holgorsen’s real test of agility won’t come until his next media briefing in the weight room. That’s when we’ll see whether he’s quick enough to stop absent-minded reporters from trampling that logo.