Simms gives WVU special teams fix entering Big 12 play
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) Just in time for the start of the Big 12 season, Marcus Simms has helped fix West Virginia’s production problems on special teams while providing needed speed as a pass catcher.
Simms has given the Mountaineers a reliable kick and punt returner after being suspended for the season opener. He’ll be on display again Saturday when West Virginia (2-1) plays at Kansas (1-2).
”It’s nice to have him back,” said West Virginia quarterback Will Grier. ”He’ll continue to make plays. As the season goes on you’ll see him doing more and more.”
Last week Simms returned the opening kickoff 80 yards to set up a touchdown last week in a 59-16 win over FCS Delaware State. A week earlier against East Carolina he had a 23-yard punt return and averaged 30 yards on two kickoff returns in the 56-20 victory .
Three of Simms’ five pass receptions have gone for touchdowns, including grabs of 52 and 62 yards, and he’s averaging 28.6 yards per catch.
”He keeps getting better. He’s doing some good things on special teams, too,” said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen. ”I was happy to see what we did on kickoff return, which has been a hot topic of discussion here. I thought Marcus played fast.”
West Virginia had been lethargic on punt returns since joining the Big 12 in 2012. The Mountaineers were ninth in the 10-team league last season with an average of 1.9 yards per return. West Virginia led the league in kickoff return average in 2014 and 2015, slipped to fifth last year and leads the league this season with a 31.4-yard average.
Kansas coach David Beaty is wary of Simms, noting that he ”can absolutely fly.”
Simms saw limited action as a freshman last season and was counted on to contribute this year to a unit that lost three of its top four receivers. But he sat out the 2017 opener against Virginia Tech following his arrest in August on suspicion of drunken driving.
West Virginia will need his production in Big 12 play to try to hold off a jinx in odd-numbered years, when it plays five league road games compared to four in even-numbered years.
The Mountaineers went a combined 2-8 on the road in 2013 and 2015. One of those included a 2013 loss at Kansas when the Jayhawks broke a 27-game conference losing streak. The rotation of odd-year road opponents also includes No. 3 Oklahoma, No. 16 TCU, Baylor and Kansas State.
After facing Kansas, West Virginia has a week off before playing at TCU. The Mountaineers will have gone a month between home games when it meets Texas Tech on Oct. 14.
”We know we have nine opponents ahead of us, so it doesn’t matter at what point you play who. It doesn’t really matter,” Holgorsen said. ”We need to play our best.”
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