SALT LAKE CITY -- Stanford’s margin of victory so far hasn’t been as tight as it was last season -- but last week the Cardinal played their closest game of 2013, topping Washington 31-28. The big difference in that game was special teams – specifically Ty Montgomery -- who had two big returns, including one for a touchdown.
Will special teams be a factor today? Possibly. Utah kicker Andy Phillips is still a pristine 9 of 9 on field goals with a long of 45. Only he and Washington’s Travis Coons can boast kicking perfection coming into this week. And should things get dicey in the closing minutes, the Utes are 2 of 2 on onside-kick attempts. Phillips is 3 of 3 from beyond 40 yards.
Both teams rank in the top four in punting -- with Utah’s Tom Hackett tied for the conference lead in punt return average (44.0), punts inside the 20 (11) and punts of 50-plus yards (7).
Montgomery enters the game leading the league in kick return average with 33.5 yards per kick and Stanford is the only school with a kick return for a touchdown. Utah’s kick coverage team ranks seventh in the conference.
Both David Shaw and Kyle Whittingham are big believers in the field-position game, so if offenses stall, look for the punters/kickers/returners to possibly play a significant role.