MORGANTOWN - Dana Holgorsen knows how important a kicker can be to a football team. He also knows how obsessed about it fans can get when kickers struggle.
So when Tyler Bitancurt had one of those breakthrough moments Friday in West Virginia's evening workout, the Mountaineers' first-year head coach was quick to point it out.
"He was as good as he's been [all preseason],'' Holgorsen said after Friday night's workout. "He was 5-for-5 or 6-for-6 in a live situation and from a time perspective it was fantastic. [It] was his best day, which I think makes everybody in the state happy.''
It has been a long process for Bitancurt and WVU's field goal unit, though.
It is easy to forget these days that not so long ago Bitancurt was at the top of his game. As a redshirt freshman in 2009 he was the first-team All-Big East kicker. He made 13 of his 15 field goal tries and was nearly perfect on extra points.
And, of course, there was the Pitt game near the end of that season. Bitancurt made four field goals, accounted for 13 points and with no time on the clock nailed a 43-yarder to touch off a wild celebration at Mountaineer Field after a 19-16 win.
Since then, though, things haven't been nearly as rosy.
Bitancurt made his only attempt the following week against Rutgers, but beginning with the Gator Bowl game against Florida State and continuing through the 2010 season he has attempted 18 field goals and made just 10. Only one of those misses was from outside 45 yards. Three were from inside 40.
Perhaps the number that most illustrates the frustration is this: Of Bitancurt's five misses during the 2010 regular season (he also had two in the Champs Sports Bowl in addition to the one in the Gator Bowl), four never even had a chance, having been blocked. Marshall, LSU, Louisville and Rutgers each blocked a WVU field goal.
"It was frustrating, it was,'' Bitancurt said. "Obviously when you get kicks blocked they're not going in. And then when I actually get the ball up and it has a chance, I miss. There was a lot of work in the offseason just to get my confidence back.''
That confidence wasn't helped any by West Virginia's spring practice, when the blocks and the misses continued. In one scrimmage alone Bitancurt missed two field goal tries inside 30 yards and Corey Smith, his competition for the job, had one blocked. And there have been a few similar issues in fall camp.
Granted, the problems are not entirely those of the kicker. There are other factors like protection and defensive pressure and even the fact that Bitancurt is breaking in a new holder, Mike Molinari.
But no matter the cause, misses and blocks can affect a kicker's confidence. Perhaps that's why Holgorsen was so quick to point out Bitancurt's most recent practice success.
He also pointed out that the difference between a kicker's best day and his worst might be miniscule.