Virginia Tech was outgained by about 120 yards against West Virginia, but won largely due to how they played a clean game with very few penalties and no turnovers. However, the Hokies also had a significant field position advantage in this game due largely to their special teams that helped lead them to victory.
During Sunday’s game, West Virginia’s best starting field position was at their own 27. The Hokies had better starting field position than WVU’s best starting field position on 11 of their 15 drives including starting at their own 40 or better twice.
Two of the big reasons for this field position domination: Oscar Bradburn and James Clark.
Both Bradburn and Clark shined in their Virginia Tech debuts as Clark proved to be a dynamic returner while Bradburn is one of America’s top new punters, ranking 19th this week in average yards per punt.
There was talk of Jordan Stout closing the gap on Oscar Bradburn, making many wonder how good Bradburn would be. However, Bradburn proved that he is going to be a major asset for the Hokies.
Bradburn proved Sunday night that he is the Hokies’ punter of the future and should be the starter for the next 4 years. Oscar Bradburn did about as well as James Shibest likely could have imagined he would, and may also push Jordan Stout to work more at kicker where he could start next year.
Bradburn impressed in his debut averaging 46.5 yards per punt for his 8 punts including two punts of over 50 yards. Bradburn also forced West Virginia to start inside their own 20 three times while consistently being able to flip the field and prevent WVU from getting good field position.
Oscar Bradburn consistently had great height on his punts that limited West Virginia to only one return. Even that punt had plenty of height with multiple Hokies forcing the WVU returner into a three-yard loss.
Punting is about more than just booming a long punt but also about making sure that you have enough height on it to allow your punt coverage the time to force a fair catch or quickly bring the returner down. Bradburn did just that Sunday night and may already be the Hokies’ best punter since before AJ Hughes.
When James Clark was named the top kick returner over Henri Murphy, it was a major surprise especially after Murphy performed well at the end of last season. However, Clark showed Sunday night that he has the skills to be one of America’s best kick returners.
Clark averaged 31 yards per return against West Virginia with that average being tied for 14th nationally and tied for 7th among those who haven’t returned a kick for a touchdown. Clark’s 31-yard average is also tied for the lead currently among ACC players alongside Louisville WR Seth Dawkins.
First, Clark has track speed that shows on the football field giving him the ability to gain a few more yards quicker than anything else. However, Clark also has great quickness and acceleration that allows him to get into space quickly and create some separation that can help him get some extra yards.
However, Henri Murphy is also extremely good in those areas. What makes the difference between Clark and Murphy is Clark’s abilities to see where the lanes are and make great decisions.
James Clark’s decision-making is fantastic and showed a couple of times Saturday night while his field vision proved vital in helping him get past the 30 on one of his returns. Clark’s speed and field vision showed the most on his 43-yard return that would have been a touchdown if Clark would have been able to keep his balance after West Virginia’s kicker tried to tackle him.
Clark has the combination of speed, field vision, and decision-making that currently makes him one of America’s most dangerous kick returner and a threat to take any kickoff to the house. Don’t be surprised if Clark returns multiple kickoffs for touchdowns this season after already coming close to doing so against West Virginia.
Sunday night, James Clark and Oscar Bradburn put together two impressive performances that helped lead the Hokies to victory despite being significantly outgained. Going forward, special teams are once again going to a strength of Virginia Tech football teams as it was in the golden years of the Beamer Ball era.
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