By Cam Huffman
West Virginia’s best offense the last two games may have been its special teams, and the game’s often-overlooked third phase could be critical Saturday when the Mountaineers (5-3, 2-3 Big 12) hit the road to face Oklahoma State (5-3, 3-2 Big 12) at 3:30 p.m. on ABC.
Of the 45 points WVU scored in its last eight regulation quarters — home losses to Kansas State and TCU — 14 have come directly from the return game. Tavon Austin returned a kickoff 100 yards for a score against the Wildcats, one of the only highlights in a 55-14 loss, and he put the Mountaineers ahead with less than two minutes on the clock against TCU with an electrifying 76-yard punt return.
Watching that tape had to be especially scary for an Oklahoma State team that gave up a 100-yard kickoff return to Kansas State’s Tyler Lockett in a 44-30 loss last week. The Cowboys rank ninth out of 10 Big 12 teams in kickoff coverage.
“They’re just as dangerous as Kansas State’s Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson,” said OSU’s Quinn Sharp, who handles both the punting and kicking duties. “They have Tavon Austin back there, and he’s just as fast as those guys. So we have to come prepared and take care of business.”
Cowboys head coach Mike Gundy isn’t willing to wait much longer to see that from his team.
“What we have to do is prepare, practice it, make sure the players understand it and play with great effort,” he explained. “The guy we played last week (Lockett) is really good. This guy (Austin) is a different really good. There’s times he gets big returns, and he doesn’t even go where they blocked it. He’s special. He reminds me of Perrish Cox (a former Oklahoma State star who is now playing for the San Francisco 49ers).”
WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen announced Thursday that freshman wide receiver Tavares Copeland has left the team for “personal reasons.” The coach would not elaborate on the decision.
Copeland had 10 catches for 55 yards in three games and even started a game after his redshirt was pulled earlier this season.
WVU’s women’s basketball team will open the 2012-13 campaign tonight when it hosts UNC Wilmington at the WVU Coliseum at 7 p.m.
“I’m always excited for the season to start,” said WVU head coach Mike Carey. “It’s hard to believe the season is here already, but it is.”
The Mountaineers return 80 percent of their scoring from last season and welcome in five new players from a nationally-ranked recruiting class. Junior Christal Caldwell averaged 10.8 points and 5.7 rebounds per game last season.
WVU finished 24-10 a year ago and lost in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The Mountaineers were picked to finish second in their first season in the Big 12.
This will be the first all-time meeting between WVU and UNCW, which finished 20-3 last season and advanced to the WNIT.
Mini-packages for the 2012-13 WVU men’s basketball season will go on sale Monday at 9 a.m.
The Gold package will include the TCU, Texas, Oklahoma State and Iowa State games for $118. The Blue package will be made up of Kansas State, Kansas, Texas Tech and Baylor tickets and sell for $123.
Also going on sale Monday will be a Family Day package for the Oklahoma game. Four tickets, four drinks, four hot dogs and one bucket of popcorn will be included in the package for $60.
Family Day packages are on sale now for the Virginia Tech and Eastern Kentucky games. Those packages must be ordered in advance and cannot be purchased on the day of the game.
To order tickets, visit www.wvugame.com or call 1-800-WVU-GAME.
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