Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Mountaineers adept at pulling off quick kick

WVU Football Notebook

Mountaineers adept at pulling off quick kick
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
By Chuck Finder, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Knees bent, torso lowered into full-squat mode, outstretched hands waiting for a pretend snap, associate head coach Bill Stewart assumed the position of a single-wing quarterback the other day. He went back in football time to portray what he learned long ago from former Navy coach and ex-West Virginia assistant Gary Tranquill of Avella: The quick kick.

It is an almost antiquated play that Stewart, West Virginia's special teams coach, and his units used Oct. 6. That marked the first such instance West Virginia had used the quick kick since late in the 2005 season, a span of some 21 games. But the Mountaineers could well pull the trick again Saturday against visiting Mississippi State.

The weekend before last, on fourth-and-3 at the Syracuse 37, quarterback Patrick White left his shotgun spot and aligned as a receiver wide right. Fullback Owen Schmitt, standing alone in the backfield, received the short snap and, much like the way Stewart pantomimed, Schmitt took a step toward the sideline and then kicked the football.

The bouncing punt stopped at the Syracuse 3, though officials maintained that another West Virginia player touched it first at the 11.

"He got gypped 10 yards there," growled the regular punter for ninth-ranked West Virginia, Plum's Pat McAfee. "Those refs were seeing some things."

West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez added of Schmitt's first career kick, "It's amazing, a guy punts one punt for 27 yards, and that just adds to the legend. All of a sudden, he's Jim Thorpe."

Nevertheless, Stewart and West Virginia relish the field-position swing and the surprise value gained from such kicks, not to mention the trick plays -- ones that have prolonged drives or scored points -- run from that formation during Rodriguez's seven years as head coach.

"Johnny Lujack did it," Stewart said, invoking another piece of quick-kick history with the 1947 Heisman Trophy-winning Notre Dame quarterback from Connellsville, among other names such as Hall of Famer Sammy Baugh and former West Virginia quarterback Rasheed Marshall. "Hey, it worked for those guys. ... You can't beat it."

It was good enough for West Virginia to use in early 2005, when Adam Bednarik was the Mountaineers' starting quarterback. A punter as well at Bethlehem Catholic High School, he had five quick kicks for a 31-yard average that season before a right foot sprain effectively handed White his big break and ended Bednarik's starting quarterback career. One thing White hasn't been asked to do: Punt.

"It's not something you can pick up like that," Bednarik said, snapping two fingers. "Not too many guys can do it. You have to practice it, too. But most of the time, because you're not a punter, you don't get much time to work on it.

"Defenses don't know what's coming, so they can't get a returner out there. It can really work to your advantage."

Ranking fluctuation

The Mountaineers gained 31 votes in The Associated Press poll but fell in the rankings, to ninth from eighth. However, with all the jockeying at the top of both polls -- after previous Nos. 1 and 2 LSU and California both lost Saturday -- they moved up two spots in the coaches' USA Today poll, to seventh. Kentucky nosed ahead of West Virginia by eight votes in AP, taking over the Mountaineers' eighth spot, but was No. 13 in USA Today.

It marked the third week in the past six in which West Virginia dropped in the polls without losing: After the second week, it fell behind Oklahoma to No. 4; the next week, it fell another rung to No. 5 after Florida passed it; and this past off weekend, when victorious Oregon and Kentucky passed it.

Quick hit

Kickoff for the West Virginia-Rutgers game Oct. 27 at Rutgers Stadium in New Brunswick, N.J., has been scheduled for noon to accommodate ABC/ESPN Regional television.

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