Kick Started

West Virginia made perhaps its most significant discovery in the past three days, one that could remedy a season-long problem and immediately produce more points.

Three Mountaineers, upon reviewing tape, noted that place kicker Pat McAfee was lined up crooked, and that strange, off-kilter stance was causing the true freshman to miss every kick to the right. McAfee is just 10 of 17 on field goals this season (as compared to Brad Cooper's nine of 16, two-block performance last year), but has hit both tries from the left hash mark – meaning he has made only eight of 15 tries (53.33 percent) from the middle of the field or the right hash marks.

The imperative detection, by special teams coach Bill Stewart, McAfee and holder George Shehl, has led to an immediate correction in alignment. McAfee has not missed since.

"He did not miss by much," Shehl said. "We knew it was not so much mechanical, because it's a good ball. It's just not going exactly where he wants. He comes across well and his form's good. So it had to be something else."

The WVU video staff pieced together clips of all McAfee's kicks, from his eight of 11 effort inside 39 yards to his two of six showing from 40 to 49 yards.

"It was weird. I was all cockeyed," McAfee said. "I have no idea why I was doing that. It was stupid. It looks really dumb on film, but we fixed it and we are good to go."

Indeed, punter Phil Brady said McAfee has had his best days as a Mountaineer in WVU's recent practices. All field goals are long and straight and he has controlled the ball from varying depths and hash marks.

It begs the question: Why wasn't film reviewed sooner?

"We had time off these past couple days, and so it was a good time to check everything," McAfee said.

Said Shehl: "He will get better with that the more he works on his flexibility. He does need to be more flexible. Everytime we go out there, though, we expect to get it. It's points every time. You can't leave three out there. Plus, sometimes when you are out there in front of 60,000 with a big checklist of things to do and the game clock to worry about, it's tough. He might hurry a bit as well. He'll get over that. The guy was getting ready for his high school Christmas dance this time last year; now he is readying for the Sugar Bowl.

"He has talent, he has a good brain. The experience he is getting as a true freshman, I expect him to be a team leader by the time he is a junior or senior. I would not be surprised if he was a team captain as a kicker. He has a good, positive attitude and great ability."

McAfee has also made 43 of 44 point-afters. His makes, in order, are from 33, 26, 40, 21, 45, 35, 28, 32, 28 and 29 yards. He has missed from 47, 32, 47, 45, 34, 49 and 27 yards.

"You can be a bit off from closer and you have a bit more margin for error," McAfee said. "So it is no wonder it is like that. At this level it is a lot about getting over the last kick. I am learning to do that. I take a lot of pride in this, and I get really mad. You can see some choice words when I walk off after a miss. But I have learned to let it go because the next one is more important."

Points will be at a premium against Georgia, the No. 4 scoring defense in the country and ranked 11th overall in total defense (yardage).

"Scoring defense is most important," WVU head coach Rich Rodriguez said. "It is going to be hard to score a lot on them. (McAfee) missed a couple of kicks I thought he should have made, and he has not kicked off as well, at times, as we thought he should. He is rock solid in practice and he has had a solid year, but I am more excited for his future. Despite his outgoing personality, he is very competitive. That's why I feel good for his future."

McAfee has kicked off 63 times, with 15 touchbacks, four returned from the end zone, and one huge onside chip, against Louisville that aided a 17-point fourth quarter rally.

"That's the highlight of my year," McAfee said. "The other side is East Carolina, when nothing went right."

McAfee missed two field goals and an extra point in WVU's narrow 20-15 win over the Pirates that came down to the last play. Still, he says, kicking in college has been easier than anticipated from a team standpoint.

"I miss because of my own mistakes," McAfee said. "Kicking against college kids has not been harder, like it would be at other positions. I thought I would have to kick the ball without any hesitation, get it off faster. But it's the same. I made a stupid mistake and I got it fixed now. Too bad there's just one game left. But it's much easier than I thought it would be. I learned, thank God."

And with McAfee's newfound approach, pardon the pun, against Georgia in a dome, WVU should expect an elevated performance.

"Inside is always easier," McAfee said. "There is no wind and there is controlled temperature. It is much easier. Even with the crowd, you really don't hear anything. I hear George, that's it. So this will be fun."

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