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Punting spot up in the air

by Dan Shrensky

CORRESPONDENT

MORGANTOWN -- Football teams have been known to employ two quarterbacks, two tailbacks and two kickers. So why not two punters?

Despite a respectable punting average of 40.7 yards, the Mountaineers are next to last in the Big East in net punting because of too many low, easily returnable kicks.

That same problem cost Mark Fazzolari -- a former all-Big East punter -- his job last year. After a shaky start this year, the senior will split time with Todd James, also the team's placekicker.

"We've got to do some things, obviously, to help us in our punt game. Todd probably gets a little more hang time and Fazz does a little bit better with some directional punts, angle punts," West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez said. "We'll look at both of them this week, but field position may dictate who is the first one out there."

James, who gets the ball off faster and has better hang time, will be the long-distance man, while Fazzolari will be called upon to deliver angled or "directional" punts.

Fazzolari put two punts out of bounds at or inside the 10-yard line during a 35-32 win at Cincinnati. But he also had several line-drive kicks the Bearcats managed to return and went down on one knee to field a low snap and was whistled down, handing over the ball deep in WVU territory.

Punting woes are particularly frustrating for special teams coordinator Bill Stewart, who says he sees Fazzolari and James, "booming the ball in the pregame," with hangtime "over four seconds.

"I'm not concerned right now that the sky's falling," Stewart said. "I'm a little mad that we did a couple knucklehead things. We've got to get better for us to make a run in the Big East."

n DUE OR OVERDUE?: Watch any of superback Avon Cobourne's games and you've got better than a 50-50 shot to see him rush for 100 yards.

For his career, Cobourne has surpassed the century mark 20 times in 34 games (59 percent).

Somehow though, East Carolina has found a way to beat the odds. Cobourne, a senior, has not rushed for 100 yards in two games against the Pirates, including a 74-yard performance in 2000's 42-24 win.

Cobourne shrugs at the jinx.

"Every time we played them, they had a lot of people in the box," he said. "We threw for 300 yards last time we played them. If that's what we've got to do to win then that's what we'll do."

Cobourne is coming off a 193-yard, two-touchdown performance against Cincinnati after a slow start to the season. He ran for 106 yards in the Mountaineers' opener against Division I-AA Tennessee-Chattanooga but admitted he was not at his best.

Cobourne, who needs 254 yards to become WVU's all-time leading rusher, led an outburst at Cincinnati that produced 334 yards on the ground and four of the Mountaineers' five touchdowns. That total included 88 yards from backup superback Quincy Wilson and 44 yards from quarterback Rasheed Marshall.

"It didn't seem like (the Bearcats) were as physical as us and the O-line just dominated. That's how we got all those yards," Cobourne said.

n TIDBITS: WVU has scored in double figures in every game against ECU and is averaging 29.6 points in the last three meetings.

The Mountaineers have allowed just two sacks this season, fewest in the Big East.