Austin, of course, made a huge play with a return, but it was a 90-yard kickoff runback for a touchdown, his second of the season.
"It was all the blocking,'' Austin said. "I hit the sideline and made a couple of moves, but that was about it. Everything else was blocking.''
But as important as that kickoff return was, punt returns have been a mixed bag for the little speedster all season.
Austin ranks fourth in the country in punt returns, averaging 14.1 yards, but that's only on the ones he has returned. Opponents have punted the ball 68 times this season and Austin, while lining up deep on all but a handful of those, has run back only 19. The others have been fair catches or -- more glaringly -- punts on which he signaled a fair catch and then couldn't get to it or let it bounce.
That put West Virginia's offense in poor field position far more times than an Austin return enhanced field position. And then a week ago against Pitt, Austin dropped a punt and Pitt recovered. Brown replaced him after that and remained in the position against USF.
For the record, Brown let South Florida's first punt drop. But it bounced backward and netted only 24 yards. Later in the game he would call for a fair catch and let a ball drop and roll behind him into the end zone. Statistically he did not have a punt return against the Bulls. Fair catches don't count as returns.
Then again, who really needed a punt returner? West Virginia obviously saw something in wanted to attack in South Florida's punt protection, going hard after punter Justin Brockhaus-Kann right from the start. It worked, too, when Willie Milhouse, who was named one of the team captains before the game, blocked a second-quarter punt that led to a Bitancurt field goal.
BRIEFLY: You knew it had to end eventually for Corey Smith, who was perfect in last week's win over Pitt, averaging 57 yards a punt. Well, his first punt against USF was angled and rolled out of bounds at the USF 7, but his second near midfield sailed out of bounds for just 20 yards and his third went 33 yards and bounced backwards. For the night he punted four times and averaged 32 yards.
| Speaking of kicking woes, Bitancurt missed his first attempt of the night, a 38-yarder that smacked into an upright and bounced back on the field. It was Bitancurt's fifth miss in his last six attempts after beginning the season 12-of-13. But then he made three in a row, including the game winner.
| Quinton Spain and Curtis Feigt started the game at right guard and right tackle, respectively, just as they finished the Pitt game. But Tyler Rader and Pat Eger, the players they replaced in the lineup, both saw action as early as the first half.
| Back to punt returns. South Florida had given up -- this is not a typo -- just three punt return yards all season. West Virginia got 16. How? When Milhouse blocked that punt, it went backward and Ricky Kovatch recovered 16 yards behind the point of the block. Those are return yards.
| Austin, by the way, passed Steve Slaton's 2006 school record of 2,104 all-purpose yards in a season during the first quarter.
| West Virginia was outgained in total yardage 397-364, only the second time that's happened this season (Syracuse was the first). South Florida also converted 10 of 19 third downs while WVU converted an awful two of 14. But the Mountaineers were three-for-three on fourth-down tries.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickm...@aol.com.