6:00: Morning News

Lambert’s 3-game penalty means early audition for Molina

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Josh Lambert’s three-game suspension means West Virginia must navigate next season’s nonconference schedule relying on a kicker who has never attempted a college field goal.

Thus, Saturday’s scrimmage presented moments of potential panic when junior walk-on Mike Molina pushed a chip-shot wide right and later misfired from 40-plus. Special teams coach Mark Scott wasn’t among the worriers, citing Molina’s nearly 80-percent accuracy in live-situation attempts this spring.

“Mike’s been great and he’s gotten a ton of reps,” Scott said. “We’ve just got to continue to work on his fundamentals.”

Molina’s career numbers at West Virginia: Two extra points during a 54-0 win over Towson in 2014 and five kickoffs spread over three games last season. The 5-foot-8 junior from Hurricane, W.Va., will be filling in for a Lou Groza finalist who has 337 points (47 shy of the school record), three walk-off game-winners, a 42-of-46 conversion rate inside of 40 yards and six field goals from 50-plus.

Lambert’s focus during the interim is lending some All-Big 12 advice to his understudy.

“Now I’ve got his eyes to watch me, so when I miss a kick, he tells me what I did wrong,” Molina said. “Today I wasn’t as consistent as I have been this week. I feel like I didn’t have that good of a practice. But I’ve been striking the ball well.”

No one within the athletics department has publicly commented on the nature of Lambert’s suspension, or the merits of an appeal that shortened the penalty. “We’re happy that he is going to be a part of the team,” was all that coach Dana Holgorsen offered Saturday.

Lambert returned to practice this week, though Scott said it will be well into summer conditioning before he ramps up “to kicking shape.” Then he’ll still must watch as the Mountaineers start the season against Missouri, Youngstown State and BYU.

For now, the job falls to Molina, who has a sense of big-game environments after spending parts of two seasons on the travel squad.

“I feel like I’ve opened myself up to that atmosphere,” he said. “The nerves will come down to that day, but I’ve been on the field, and I know what to do. So it’s just time to do it.”

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