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Success returns to Virginia's kicking game

Much was made in recent weeks about the fact that entering Saturday's contest against Virginia Military Institute, Virginia had not made a field goal in four tries this season. That streak ended against the Keydets, as junior Robert Randolph made field goals of 33 and 44 yards, respectively.

But also encouraging was the performance of junior Chris Hinkebein, who handles kickoffs for the Cavaliers. Hinkebein averaged 69.3 yards per kickoff Saturday and tallied two touchbacks. Last season, Hinkebein was removed from kickoff duty because he kept kicking the ball out of bounds during practice. First-year Virginia Coach Mike London said that hasn't been an issue so far this year.

In fact, London said Hinkebein has aided the kickoff coverage unit by placing the ball exactly where the coaches ask him to, which puts added stress on the return team.

"Sometimes it's hard based on teams' return schemes of saying this is where we want you to kick the ball, between the hash and the numbers," London said. "And he's done a nice job of being able to do that."

Hinkebein has incredible leg strength, London said, and he would like to use Hinkebein more often on long field goal attempts. But Hinkebein is not yet as accurate on field goals as the coaching staff would like. He missed wide left on his only field goal attempt of the season thus far -- a 51-yarder against Richmond in Week 1.

"The tricky thing with him is he's got such an outstanding, strong leg that it's the kicking the long field goals that sometimes he may scatter to the right or to the left," London said Sunday. "But kicking off, being able to have a couple touchbacks and put the ball deep into the end zone is critically important because then the ball's on the 20-yard-line ... I think what he provides is such a strong leg like that, you know, and then the kickoff aspect of it is a field advantage that you want.

"We're not saying that he'll never go out and kick a long field goal. He's kicked, like, a 57-yarder before in practice, but he may go out and kick it wide to the left or wide to the right. We don't know. We'll just have to see what dictates his opportunity in a game."

By Steve Yanda  | September 27, 2010; 2:34 PM ET
 
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