Washington coach Chris Petersen says the Huskies always try to emphasize special teams. It's a big strength for Utah.
One area that Utah seems to have an advantage against Washington is special teams, with the Utes’ kicker and punter among the best in the nation.
If it is a close game between the two teams Friday night, special teams could be a key to which team wins.
“We always try to (emphasize) special teams, and that’s one thing they are really good at,” said Washington coach Chris Petersen on Wednesday. “But whether they’re good on special teams or not has no bearing on what we need to do. We’ve done some good things and we’ve done some not-so-good things. We need to play our best game across the board to win.”
Utah kicker Matt Gay is 23 of 28 on field-goal attempts with a long of 55, and is perfect on 43 extra-point attempts. He is third in the nation in made field goals and does not allow many kickoff returns because of his strong leg.
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Utes punter Mitch Wisnowsky averages 45.4 yards per punt, 12th in the nation, and the Utes rank fourth in the country in net punting average.
Washington kicker Peyton Henry is 14 of 19 on field-goal attempts with a long of 41. Teams have returned 40 kickoffs against the Huskies while UW has returned just 13. Washington punter Joel Whitford averages 42.2 yards per punt.
Neither team has done well with its return game. UW has returned 18 punts this season (17 by Aaron Fuller) for 110 yards, a 6.1 average. The past few years, Dante Pettis gave Washington a huge threat, returning an NCAA record nine punts for touchdowns in his career.
“I was extremely hopeful we would get more done there,” said Petersen, of the team’s punt returns. “Everyone one wants to look at the punt returner … but you need a lot of guys to make that guy successful.”
Just another game?
Petersen said this week feels like just another game to him, but he hopes it’s different for his players.
“When you are preparing, you’re back in the next day and you put the tape in like you have done your whole life, and so it does feel (the same),” he said. “But I hope it’s different for the kids because they shouldn’t feel the same. This is what they’ve worked for.
“Every team should be evaluated on competing for league championships, because that’s all you can control. You can’t control the rankings.”
Petersen would not comment on the status of starting left tackle Jared Hilbers, who left the Apple Cup last when he rolled an ankle. Petersen said earlier in the week that it was “nothing long term.” Trey Adams, who has missed most of the season after having back surgery, took over after Hilbers was injured.
Petersen would also not comment on the status of reserve running back Kamari Pleasant, who has missed the past couple of games. “Just trying to get him going,” Petersen said.