WVU football: Bitancurt rebounds from blocked punt
AUSTIN, Texas - West Virginia, which jumped to No. 5 in the Associated Press poll and No. 4 in the coaches' poll, is already on its third punter this season.
Place kicker Tyler Bitancurt handled the job in Saturday's 48-45 win against Texas, which fell from No. 11 in the media poll and No. 9 in the coaches' poll to No. 15 in both. He hadn't punted in a game since 2007 - his senior year of high school - which was also the last time the Mountaineers were a top-five team.
He punted just once, largely because WVU was 5-for-5 on fourth down, but the record book will never remember his punting at Texas Memorial Stadium. His debut attempt was spoiled by a high snap and the extra time it gave Texas cornerback Carrington Byndom to slip in on the right side and get a piece of the ball.
The box score recorded it as a 26-yard team punt and WVU's second blocked punt allowed this season. Bitancurt accepted part of the blame.
"We were actually supposed to go left and I went a little too straight with the guy coming right at me," he said. "I feel like if I went a little left I would have gotten that punt off and we wouldn't have had that situation. It's something I need to learn from because the snap wasn't bad enough to mess me up."
It was the eighth kick Bitancurt has had blocked in his four-year career. He had his seventh field goal blocked in the first quarter when his 42-yard attempt hit Texas defensive lineman Alex Okafor in the helmet.
Bitancurt rebounded from the blocks and hit 37- and 41-yard field goals on consecutive possessions in the second quarter, the second to cut the Texas lead to 28-27 at halftime.
"That was definitely big," he said. "I knew those were clutch situations and we needed to help the team. We kept our cool about the situation. You want to be comfortable out there."
WVU began the season with former Musselman standout Corey Smith punting, but he was shanking and line-driving kicks. Former Parkersburg South star Michael Molinari replaced Smith against Baylor after Smith's low, 45-yard punt facilitated a 45-yard return by the Bears. Molinari punted next and managed just 31 yards.
WVU's only other option is true freshman Josh Lambert, who is on scholarship and has yet to play this season. Bitancurt, who has split kickoff situations with Smith, said he'd keep punting if the coaches keep asking and believes the added duty is more of a benefit than a hindrance.
"I feel like it keeps me focused more," he said. "In the game now, it's not like, 'Oh, this could be a punting situation. I'm not going in.' They threw me out there for just field goals before, so this keeps me in the game. Mentally, it's better for me."
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WVU HAD BEEN 0-for-4 on fourth down in the first four games. As best as WVU can tell with available records, there had never been more than three fourth-down conversions in a game.
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ONE OF THE game's more significant moments may have gone unnoticed, but the Mountaineers might not have won without it.
On first-and-10 with a little more than 4 minutes to play, running back Andrew Buie was tackled for a 1-yard loss at his 40-yard line. It was WVU's 12th negative yardage play and Buie's sixth run when he lost yards.
WVU let the play clock tick to 1 second before calling a timeout. Geno Smith then completed a sideline route to Stedman Bailey for 13 yards and a first down.
"We had to get first downs," Coach Dana Holgorsen said. "That's our four-minute offense. You have to throw it and you have to complete it. We knew they were going to bring the safety down and junk up the box. If we ran into that, we were going to punt it pretty quickly. We knew we were going to have to throw it a couple times to get first downs and stay on the field."
Buie gained 22 yards on the next play and WVU was on the way to the decisive touchdown - a 4-yard run by Buie.
He finished with a career-high 31 carries for 207 yards and two scores. He added three receptions for 66 yards and one kickoff return for 13 yards. His 281 all-purpose yards were the ninth-best total in school history.
Buie touched the ball 35 times. Two weeks earlier, when Shawne Alston barely played in what has become essentially a three-game absence, Holgorsen said Buie didn't carry more against Maryland because "if we gave it to him 35 times then we probably wouldn't have him next week.''
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WVU DEFEATED ranked teams in consecutive weeks for the first time since 2007. That year the Mountaineers won at No. 21 Cincinnati, 28-23, followed by a home win against No. 20 Connecticut, 66-21.
WVU beat No. 25 Baylor, 70-63, on Sept. 29 before knocking off Texas.
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THE LONGHORNS were held to a season-low 404 yards of offense - nearly 300 fewer yards than the Baylor Bears (700) gained against the Mountaineers a week ago.
In WVU's first two Big 12 games, there have been 31 combined touchdowns and six combined punts.
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WVU, NO. 5 in scoring offense at 52 points per game, has scored 42 or more points in four of five games. The 48 points scored against Texas was the most for the Mountaineers in a road game since a 55-14 win at Syracuse on Oct. 6, 2007.
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TCU'S 37-23 home loss to Iowa State ruined the Horned Frogs' NCAA-best 12-game winning streak.
West Virginia's nine-game run is tied for the second-longest current streak in FBS behind No. 3 South Carolina's 10-game streak. The school record is 13 consecutive wins across the 1952-53 seasons.
No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Oregon are tied with West Virginia.