While much attention has been focused on placekicker Pat McAfee in preseason camp, another young…
Through the season's first six games, Kozlowski has punted just 14 times for 596 yards. Of those fourteen punts, seven have been returned for a total of ten yards. Compare that with West Virginia's opponents, who have punted 29 times for 1,139 yards. The Mountaineers have returned 13 punts for 129 yards, giving the opponents a net punting average of 33 yards per kick.
When all the math is said and done, West Virginia is averaging a whopping 41.9 net yards per punt. That average is good enough for third best in the nation, behind only New Mexico State and South Carolina. Then again, with only 14 punts, you would expect the Mountaineers to rank highly in that category. Games like this past Saturday's win over Syracuse certainly help.
"In the Syracuse game, we only had one punt," Kozlowski says of his lone appearance during the Homecoming game. "I'm not complaining about that though. If I have one punt, and it helps the team and we're winning, then I'm happy. It does get boring over there, though. I was in the net the whole game, and I was having the sideline trainer stretch me just to make sure I stayed loose just in case."
Another reason for West Virginia's net punting success has been Kozlowski's ability to execute the rugby punt. As easy as he's made the gold and blue's signature punt look, you'd be surprised to know that until last fall, he'd never even heard of the rugby punt, let alone tried to execute it.
"When I came to our first practice, the coaches asked me if I knew what a rugby punt was," recalled the redshirt freshman from Palm Beach, Fla. "I told them I really didn't know what a rugby punt was, but I knew what the sport was. I just figured it was some kind of weird kick. I hadn't worked on it before, but the redshirt year gave me extra time to work on it. It probably took me from the beginning of last season until March to master it. Once spring came around, I had it down. Now, it's just clockwork."
For this Friday's road tilt with the Connecticut Huskies, Kozlowski will need to bring his best game. UConn punt returner Larry Taylor is averaging 14.46 yards per return, which as you know is more return yardage than the Mountaineers have given up all season. It's against a threat like Taylor that the quirks of the West Virginia punting game are most effective.
"I'm hoping that whatever the coaches call (on Friday night), I'll have enough hangtime, or distance, or angle it well enough to keep him away from that ball," said Kozlowski, who was rated as the nation's best punter in the Class of 2005 by Scout.com. "What I'm hoping for is that they only have one guy back there, and have ten up front. That way, it's just him back there and I have more field to work with."
It's this setup that Scott is most comfortable with. By keeping so many guys on the line of scrimmage, Kozlowski's punt basically dictates how the play will turn out. Teams that use multiple return men (like West Virginia does with Vaughn Rivers and Antonio Lewis) have a better chance at catching a short punt, or keeping a deep punt from getting much of a roll.
The spread punt formation that Rich Rodriguez has employed over the past two seasons is very good at getting downfield to cover a punt, whether it's being returned or being downed.
"After our three shields take all the hits, keep me from getting hit, and let me get the ball off, we call it spreading the net where basically wherever I kick the ball to, we already have it covered," Kozlowski explained. "That's why I have to be really consistent with where I kick the ball, so that we don't give up any cheap yardage."
Besides the rugby punt, Kozlowski has also learned how to punt off of a two step approach as opposed to two and a half. This ensures that the ball is off as soon as possible following the snap, thus minimizing the chance for a blocked punt.
"When I came, I had a little jab step. It wasn't so much of a full step, which was a big concern to the coaches," Kozlowski recalled. "They are looking for consistent times, and they want every punt out in two seconds, which I've been doing this year.
"They saw my film, and when I got here they helped me fix some things. It was a big benefit for me. Even though at first I didn't want to redshirt, it really helped me out a lot."
With the 2006 regular season halfway done, Kozlowski still has plenty he'd like to accomplish. First and foremost, he and his teammates would like to continue winning. As head coach Rich Rodriguez has stated time and again, the top goal every year is to win the Big East Conference.
With regards to his punting, Kozlowski would like for the Mountaineers to keep their spot amongst the nation's top teams in terms of net punting. Anytime you're flipping the field position 41 yards, you've put your team in a good spot.
"I'm still doing my thing, living up to my rep and not disappointing people, even though that's not a big concern of mine. I'm just trying to do my best for the team, and for myself," he says. "I haven't really been able to show off what I can do with the regular punts, but I'm not complaining because we're doing really well."
Although he hasn't had many opportunities to show off his leg, Kozlowski and the punting game are certainly a reason for West Virginia's early success.