WVU notebook: Molinari takes advantage of opportunity
MORGANTOWN - Michael Molinari already had a pretty important job on West Virginia's football team. If he keeps playing like he did Saturday, he's going to safely tuck away another.
Molinari, a redshirt freshman from Parkersburg South who serves as Tyler Bitancurt's holder for placekicks, got his chance to punt against Connecticut. To say that he was impressive would be an understatement.
Molinari punted five times and averaged 43 yards per kick. Three times he pinned UConn inside its 20-yard line.
And twice he put the Huskies on their own 2, although he got credit for only one. In the first half he angled a perfect punt that landed a yard out of bounds at the goal line. It was marked at the 2.
A penalty wiped out another kick that was downed at the 2 late in the game, but Molinari wasn't complaining.
"It was amazing,'' Molinari said of merely having the chance to punt. "You have to take advantage of opportunities when you get them.''
Molinari got his chance because Corey Smith, his roommate, didn't take advantage of his. Smith had nearly as many shanks as good punts in the first four games, so coach Dana Holgorsen handed the job to the walk-on with the understanding that whether he got a chance to kick more than once would depend on his first kick.
Well, his first punt was 46 yards. Although it was returned 12 yards, he kept the job and angled that second one out of bounds in the corner. It came after a punt a play earlier that went out at the 15 was negated by a penalty.
"I don't have as much power as Corey, but I think the directional stuff and the pooch punts are my specialty,'' Molinari said.
Molinari's punting was a big reason why Holgorsen trumpeted the play of his special teams in Saturday's 43-16 win. The kickoff unit didn't give up any big returns or good field position, either.
Smith was also taken off the kickoff unit in favor of Bitancurt. But when Bitancurt's opening kickoff went only to the 10-yard line, Smith was back. He wound up kicking off five times and Bitancurt three.
"The thing I'm proud of more than anything is that we made great strides with our special teams,'' Holgorsen said.
Yes, but there is still work to do.
Tavon Austin returned one kickoff for 31 yards, but three times he or Brad Starks didn't run the ball out of the end zone. That's fine, except that twice Austin muffed the kicks in the end zone and had no choice.
He also muffed a punt and let another bounce and roll for a net of 63 yards. He got better as the game wore on, though, and averaged just over 10 yards on five returns.
West Virginia almost unnoticeably broke its school record for passing yards in a game - again - against the Huskies.
Geno Smith had established both the individual and team passing marks for a single game when he threw for 463 yards against LSU two weeks ago. Marc Bulger's 452 in the 1998 Insight Bowl constituted both records prior to that.
Well, Smith didn't break the individual mark. He had "only'' 450 passing yards against UConn. But backup Paul Millard's one completion went for 19 yards, making a record team total of 469 passing yards.
It was mostly due to what Smith managed in just 14 minutes from the middle of the third quarter to the middle of the fourth, when he threw for 249 yards.
First he found Tavon Austin on a post pattern 10 seconds and two plays after Jewone Snow's 83-yard fumble return. The play was a perfect mismatch when Austin was isolated on linebacker Sio Moore in the slot.
A three-and-out later, Stedman Bailey caught a short pass, safety Ty-meer Brown slipped while over-running the play and Bailey raced 84 yards to make it 24-9.
Next it was Brad Starks' turn. He both outmaneuvered and outjumped Dwayne Gratz in the end zone for a score. And then Bailey was catching a pass in the middle and stretching into the 27-yard score.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org.