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Getting a leg up

Healthy Taylor ready to kick West Virginia to victory

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Posted: Tuesday December 22, 1998 06:35 PM


TUCSON, Arizona (AP) -- Seeing West Virginia's Jay Taylor kick during the regular season was like a doctor removing a splinter. It was necessary, but it sure hurt to watch.

Taylor has rested a season-long hip injury the past month and has regained both his confidence and accuracy heading into Saturday's Bowl against Missouri.

"My leg feels as good as it has since before I hurt it," Taylor said this week. "The rest definitely helped. It's just about 100 percent."

A junior, Taylor took over the punting duties this season while maintaining his regular kicking job.

Through four games, he led the Big East in punting with a 45.2-yard average and had converted 91 consecutive extra points.

He injured his right hip about the third game against Tulsa. He can't remember exactly how. There was no particular play, no certain hit.

And thus, the problems began.

Taylor had been West Virginia's go-to guy not only on field goals, but also on kickoffs, punts and extra points.

"The first half of the year our kicking game I thought was outstanding. We were nationally ranked in the top 10 in every category," West Virginia assistant coach Bill Legg said Tuesday.

"But we had one kid who was doing all the kicking. And when he got hurt, we had three kids that subdivided all the kicking duties, and we really went downhill."

Taylor was taken off kickoffs and his punting duties were reduced to give his hip time to heal. But his replacements didn't kick the ball where the coaches wanted them to. Several kickoffs were shanked out of bounds, and Zach Anglin averaged just 35.5 yards on six punts.

"They were putting us in some tough situations," Legg said. "So consequently, in the last half of the season, our kicking game was adequate at best."

Taylor, meanwhile, remained the primary kicker on field goals and extra points while doing occasional punts. The injury, which worsened as the season progressed, prompted the coaching staff to put off attempting long-distance field goals late in the season.

Taylor played through the pain and never lost his mobility but it threw off his timing. Two of his punts were blocked against Virginia Tech, one of which was returned for a touchdown.

Against Boston College, Taylor missed two extra points and was penalized after dropping the snap on a punt and kicking the ball while it was on the ground.

Known more for his accuracy than his distance, Taylor missed two of his final three field-goal tries to finish 9-of-13 this season. He was 39-of-42 on extra points.

"You need that consistency, you need that maturity in there. That's the thing that Jay brings back to the table," Legg said. "Right now, Jay's looking pretty good. He's as healthy as he's been in a long time."

Missouri's special teams have been effective in getting to the ball, blocking three punts and a field goal this season and partially blocking three other punts.

"The best thing they do is block kicks and punts," said West Virginia coach Don Nehlen. "That bothers you in this kind of game."

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