The Utah Utes knew Stanford’s Ty Montgomery was a dangerous kickoff returner and tried to kick away from him, but the receiver still returned a kick 100 yards for a touchdown against the Utes and had two other returns upping his day’s total to 160 yards.
Ultimately Montgomery’s effort didn’t burn the Utes as they still scored the upset on Saturday, but his play did highlight an area that coach Kyle Whittingham is calling his team’s Achilles heel.
“That’s the phase we haven’t been pleased with and we have to take a long hard look at that,” Whittingham said.
Kicker Andy Phillips, who is perfect in his field goal attempts and PATs, has just six touchbacks out of 32 kickoffs, making it the one area in which the former skier must improve. Philips said he knows he has to keep working on the kickoffs.
“I was feeling better about them at the beginning of the season and I don’t know if it’s losing leg strength as the season goes on or what,” he said.
The Utes also have freshman Jamie Sutcliffe and sophomores Tom Hackett and Jon Halliday available, but none have fared much better.
“We’ve worked all the kickers in the program,” Whittingham said. “We’re searching for the guy that is able to do the best job and right now it’s Andy. It’s not for a lack of searching and giving other people a shot. It’s just right now we don’t have that guy who can pound it out of the back of the end zone with any consistency or regularity.”
Whittingham has some company in dissatisfaction with the kickoff teams, as Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez also expressed disappointment in his team’s efforts against USC.
Kicker Jake Smith failed to have any touchbacks on his six kickoff attempts.
Other than the kickoff coverage, Whittingham said he is happy with the way his team has developed at the midway point of the season.
“On offense, we are scoring, and defensively, we are making a lot of progress, particularly in the secondary,” he said.
Whittingham continues to be impressed with his team’s effort and attitude.
“The competitive nature of this team is that they are fun to be around, with the way they compete and the way they care about what they’re doing,” he said.
Rodriguez isn’t happy about his defense, which gave up 409 yards to Washington in a 31-13 loss.
Several missed tackles were among the lowlights in the loss to the Trojans, something he said was perplexing to him.
Utah at Arizona
O Saturday, 8 p.m.
TV • Pac-12