Should Syracuse kick returner Curtis Brinkley break through, the sophomore's last barrier to a score might be his most difficult.

Brinkley, also the Orange tailback, will be matched against the lone West Virginia player who is a perfect one for one on finishing open field tackles this season. Place kicker Pat McAfee made what was certainly the most humorous highlight – if not the most exciting – when he tackled a Mississippi State returner when the Bulldog threatened a score during a kickoff.

McAfee, a sophomore out of Plum High in Pittsburgh, cut off the return man with the proper angle, broke down and held his lane, and delivered the blow, forcing the Stater to the natural grass. It saved a touchdown, and it made for what the coaching staff could use as a picturesque example of tackling. This wasn't the usual flop-and-folly effort by a kicker, but a solid display of athletic ability and surprising speed.

"It wasn't as much the tackle as it was the fact that he outran a corner to make the tackle," WVU head coach Rich Rodriguez said. "I won't give you his name, but that guy will hear about that the rest of his career, getting outran by the kicker on the way to the ball. That was the lightest mood in the (film review) meetings."

McAfee is the fastest of the kickers, being able to out run punter Scott Kozlowski in the 40-yard dash with a 4.62 versus a 4.68, according to the latter. That's not blazing, and being the quickest kicker, perhaps akin to being the most agile elephant in the herd, normally just means one is able to run off the field faster. That's what the always-jesting McAfee said teammates are claiming actually happened.

"A lot of people were saying I was just running off the field to get a drink of water and the guy ran into me," the 6-1, 215-pounder, who is four for five on field goals this year, the lone miss coming at MSU. "That's actually more what happened. I just sort of winged it out there and hoped for the best."

It worked, and much of that might be a result of captaining a less than stealer special teams unit in high school, where 80 percent of his kickoffs went into the end zone. McAfee, who played soccer and thus did not practice daily with the football team, had motivation for a lengthy offering, because the other 20 percent were an adventure.

"I went to Plum High, and our special teams wasn't that, um, impressive, let's say," McAfee said of his WPIAL school. "We faced some good return guys and I had a couple tackles a game. I got used to it."

Brinkley, who has rushed for 353 yards on 74 attempts (4.8 ypc and one TD), is averaging 21.7 yards per run back on nine touches. He hasn't yet returned a kickoff for a score, his longest effort coming via a 48-yader against Rutgers. Fellow returner Kareem Jones, another sophomore who also plays running back, has returned four kickoffs for 70 yards (17.5 yards per return). His longest, however, is just 20 yards, but he did rank fourth in the Big East and 48th nationally last season with a 23.4-yard average.

No. 4 West Virginia's return tandem of Darius Reynaud (six for 203 yards and a 96-yard touchdown against Maryland) and Antonio Lewis are both averaging more yards per return than Brinkley, while Vaughn Rivers is within 0.4-yards at 21.3. Reynaud, a wideout, actually leads the Big East and ranks seventh in the NCAA with a 33.8 yards per return average, so McAfee sees more explosion everyday in practice. His hope was that SU punt returner Max Meisel would also return kickoffs. Meisel, a wideout, is just 5-4 and 149 pounds, but has proven slippery, and he can easily hide behind larger blockers.

"Maybe if he'd break one through, I'd be able to sleep better knowing I am bigger than him," McAfee said. "That's big time. I didn't get a good luck at the last guy that almost ran me over. But I ran him down a little bit."

Note: McAfee's lone miss of the year – he has hit four of five field goals (one was also blocked) and all 28 point-afters – was an 43-yarder with 3:25 left in the third quarter on the grass surface at Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field in Starkville. He said, due to the winds, north-northeast at seven miles per hour at the game's start and swirling throughout, and the stadium's layout, that it was the worst conditions he in which he had ever kicked.

"I don't want to make excuses; it was a bad kick. But that field and the conditions, I have never kicked in that bad of conditions in my life," McAfee said. "I was actually struggling with 45-yarders. The wind was dead face to me. And I struggled with those 45-yarders in warm-ups. Going out there, I thought in my head that I would have to kill it to get it in. That's exactly what happened. I tried way too hard and I shanked it completely. It never had a chance."

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