WVU kicker, holder, snapper trying to improve efficiency
MORGANTOWN - When Dana Holgorsen singled out field-goal kicking last week, the West Virginia football coach mentioned he wasn't happy with the operation.
It sounded complex and seemed like a problem that would take time to correct.
In truth, there isn't much time involved at all. The operation is the snap, the hold and the kick on field goals and extra points. The first movement on the snap to the moment the ball is sent into the air is supposed to last 1.3 seconds.
"We were a little bit above that," kicker Tyler Bitancurt said.
Holgorsen wanted it down to 1.3 and even a tenth of a second matters a lot.
"Those wing players on defense come around to block it," Bitancurt said. "It could be a matter of just inches, but it makes a big difference if the ball goes in or not."
Bitancurt missed seven of his 17 field-goal attempts in 2010 and four were blocked. It continued through the spring, where the Mountaineers were working with a new holder and even more attempts were blocked.
WVU had three more blocked in the first six days of preseason practice, which caused Holgorsen's to spotlight the operation time.
"At first, you don't want to believe it," Bitancurt said. "You have to believe him, but you kind of think, 'Wow, I'm not that slow.' But we timed it on film and we were slow, but we've worked on it to speed it up and Coach Holgorsen has been pleased with us and told us we've been picking it up."
Bitancurt made all of his attempts in Friday's practice and Holgorsen said it was his junior kicker's best day.
"From a time perspective, it was fantastic," Holgorsen said.
It was largely on Bitancurt, too.
"As a kicker, you've got to pick your feet up and you've got to be quicker to the ball and shorten your steps and get a little closer to that ball," he said.
There are other participants and it was going to take time to work on the operation time. Bitancurt and long-snapper Cody Nutter played the previous two seasons together. There's a third part of the operation, though, and Jeremy Kash is no longer a part of it.
Replacing him is holder Michael Molinari, a walk-on from Parkersburg South. All three are getting to know one another. Nutter, for example, has to get used to where Molinari has his hands.
"He hits the spot really well," Bitancurt said. "If he places it right in his hands, it's a lot easier for the holder."
Bitancurt has to get used to the mechanics of Molinari's catch and hold and figure out how to slow down, but stay in a rhythm, if he spots a slip or a spin on the hold.
Molinari has the most adjusting to do since he's catching Nutter's snap and prepping for Bitancurt's kick.
"He's getting more comfortable with the fast snap from Cody," Bitancurt said. "He can snap it a lot faster than the other snappers. Mike's got to get used to catching that ball and putting it down with my speed getting to the ball."
There are personal preferences to consider, too. Most holders will spin the ball so the laces are out away from the kick. Bitancurt would rather Molinari not spin the ball.
"If you kick a spinning ball, the chances it goes in are slim to none," Bitancurt said. "I've told him how hard it is. In the spring game, I kicked a ball that was spinning. I told him he needs to stop spinning it."
Bitancurt would rather kick the laces than kick a spinning ball, which hooks and slices. Bitancurt said the laces mostly mess with a kicker's head and nothing else. It doesn't look like what they're used to seeing and it causes a hesitation the operation can't afford. Bitancurt is over that obstacle.
"The laces only takes distance off the kick," he said. "People think you can't make it. You can get the same kick, but it just doesn't go as far."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.