By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
Now that something good has happened for West Virginia, it is time to shout something that had only been whispered up to this point.
West Virginia’s special teams stink.
And when you look who is coaching them, you find Joe DeForest, the coach who a year ago molded WVU’s defense into its worst in the school history.
DeForest did such a terrible job with the defense a season ago that he was replaced before the year was over to give Keith Patterson as much time as he could to begin straightening out the mess the defense was in. Certainly the change wasn’t made to save the season, for that already was long gone despite as prolific and exciting an offense as WVU has ever fielded.
DeForest remained with the title of associate head coach, responsibilities undefined, at least publicly, and was moved to special teams coordinator with coach Dana Holgorsen singing the praises of what he had done with the special teams at Oklahoma State.
It has not transferred to West Virginia with him.
In fact, the only thing keeping special teams from being a total disaster is the fact that the Mountaineers have one of the nation’s best punters in Nick O’Toole, a mustachioed character who is in the mold of loose special team stars like Todd Sauerbrun in WVU’s golden and olden days.
What transpired before 57,000-plus sets of eyes in Milan Puskar Stadium on Saturday, to say nothing of the unblinking ESPN camera bringing it to the nation, almost defied description, even though it was easy to overlook in the euphoria of the upset of the No. 11 Cowboys.
In truth, the special teams play nearly cost the game.
The most glaring of the problems were in the return game, beginning with the opening kickoff of the second half. WVU was flying high with a 24-14 halftime advantage, getting the ball on the opening kickoff.
You figure you might get it at the 25, if the ball goes into the end zone, or beyond with a decent return.
Ronald Carswell was charged with returning the kickoff, bobbled it in, zigged and zagged his way all the way to his own 3, the only gold star to be awarded him for avoiding a safety on the kickoff.
WVU could do little with the ball, O’Toole postponing the inevitable by punting 50 yards, but the inevitable could not be staved off, for four plays later J.W. Walsh found fullback Jeremy Seaton uncovered for a 30-yard touchdown to bring the Cowboys back into the game.
OK, WVU fought into scoring position and asked Josh Lambert to kick a 50-yard field goal, no gimme but makeable ... if it wasn’t blocked.
Now the special teams were falling apart completely, although really it had started even earlier when they lined up for a field goal with Lambert kicking if off the left upright, the miss being negated because timeout had to be called because the play clock had run down to 1 second.
Before the third quarter let out, Jordan Thompson, who had been pressed into return duty for Carswell on punts, somehow managed to use the fine coaching he was getting to call for a fair catch ... while standing on his own 3-yard line.
If you can’t coach into a player that this is a no-no, hard to imagine you coaching anything into him.
Thompson didn’t make the same mistake the next time he fielded a punt. Despite being surrounded by a crowd of defenders at his own 25, Thompson fielded the ball without a fair catch and lost four yards on the return.
We could go on, a false start on a field goal that preceded a miss from 34 yards away for one, and you can understand why Holgorsen took a moment even in the glow of victory to point out:
“Special teams, we’ve got a lot of issues to get sorted out.”
It had been said that the reason DeForest was retained after last season was because WVU could not afford to fire him, his salary standing at $500,000 and going through next season.
You know what they say — a half-million dollars just doesn’t buy what it used to.
You wonder, though, if it is that West Virginia can’t afford to fire him or can the school afford not to fire him, especially with his name having cropped up prominently in a Sports Illustrated expose on the Oklahoma State program when he was coaching there.
OSU is looking into the charges but, in fairness, it must be pointed out that nothing has been proven at this time.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.