Punt protection breaks down for West Virginia against Tennessee

MORGANTOWN — Mark Scott dropped his head in disappointment on West Virginia’s first punt of the season Saturday against Tennessee.
After working on certain alignments and protections for months, coaches are eager to see how his players perform. For the WVU special teams coach, it left a sour taste in his mouth.
On the last play of the first quarter, the Vols forced the Mountaineers’ first punt of the day. As soon as the ball was snapped and hurled toward punter Billy Kinney, the entire strong side of the protection unit broke down and allowed Tennessee’s Alontae Taylor to get his right hand up to block the kick.
No one laid a hand on Taylor as he burst through the line, but fortunately for WVU, the ball rolled to the Tennessee 22-yard line in what ended up being a 34-yard attempt.
“We had some guys up front that just completely broke down,” Scott said. “If you go back and watch it, there are four guys who come off that left side completely unblocked. We tell our guys to read demeanor to see what a guy might do. Obviously, the main thing everyone is worried about doing is going down and making a play, but you have to worry about protection first.”
On the play, cornerback Josh Norwood and safety Toyous Avery were the flanks along the line and when the ball was snapped, neither blocked or chipped a Tennessee player. Instead, both immediately took off down field to cover the return.
While the end result wasn’t as damaging as it could have been, the Vols had enough momentum to rattle off a 17-play, 8:47 drive to start the second quarter.
“Coach (Dan) Gerberry and coach (Dana) Holgorsen have all done a good job with saying, ‘Protect, protect, protect,’ and on the first punt of the year, that’s not exactly what you want to see,” Scott said. “Luckily, it wasn’t something that ended up costing us the game.
“Then again, they block a punt, get a little juiced up and their offense goes on a 17-play drive. It affects the entire team when something like that happens.”
Scott said it was directly addressed and was immediately cleaned up. On WVU’s only other punt attempt on its next possession, safeties Deamante Lindsay and Osman Kamara took the places of Avery and Norwood.
Lindsay and Kamara made sure to put their hands on Tennessee’s edge rushers before pushing downfield to cover the kick. Lindsay also made the tackle on the play after Kinney’s 53-yard attempt.
“I don’t foresee that being an issue moving forward,” Scott said. “If we do our job up front and our shields stay big and square and protect inside out, we’ll have time to protect from those outside rushers. It’s all about laying a hand on those guys from the point of attack. If we do, then you’ll see what happened Saturday.”

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