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Utah State's Dave Ungerer talks special teams success against Lobos

Published October 23, 2013 4:24 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Dave Ungerer is always on the hunt for those special teams moments when "the stars line up."

On a punt return, if the blocking is all right, the returner should have one man to beat. And in the words of Ungerer, a longtime special teams coach: "If he's worth a darn, he should be able to make that guy miss."

On Saturday against New Mexico, the stars finally got in position. Jojo Natson had been telling Ungerer he was due for a return for weeks, but in the second quarter finally took one to the house. One cut inside, and he was gone - his blockers made sure it was a smooth ride. And that's the kind of play that makes Ungerer smile.

"Jojo has such quickness and explosiveness, and the upfront guys did a good job of giving him space and holding the coverage up," he said. "He made his guy miss, and the other guys were busting their humps blocking for him and did a good job."

There have been quite a few changes under Ungerer on special teams, an area in which he's made his career. Although returns or return coverage can look like chaos, Ungerer has overhauled some of the team's blocking and coverage schemes on special teams this year, and the Aggies have taken well to it.

Consider Saturday, perhaps the special teams' best performance all year. Natson returned a punt for a touchdown, and could've had another if not for a penalty flag that recalled it. Jaron Bentrude found a chance to run on a rugby punt for a touchdown, although Ungerer acknowledged that was a bit of surprise.

"It was the first time we've run that particular protection, and I didn't really think to talk to him about running it," he said. "I probably should've thought to maybe put the brakes on that, but he did what he was coached to do. There's going to be other games where we'll need him to do that."

Beyond the scoreboard, however, Utah State's kickoff coverage is ranked No. 3 in the nation - maybe the best marker of how the unit is coming along.

The Lobos' kick returner Carlos Wiggins came into the game as one of the most dangerous return men in the country, averaging nearly 28 yards per return. The Aggies held him to under a 16-yard average on seven kickoff returns, and his longest was only 21 yards.

"That's pretty salty, I'm proud of those guys," he said. "It's a different scheme than these guys have been used to, and they've taken it and run with it. We have a kicker [Jake Thompson] who gives us good hangtime and location, and the kids know the running lanes and the plan."

An obvious shortcoming in recent weeks has been the field goal unit, which has been blocked in three consecutive games. Matt Wells said earlier this week that he was unhappy with the unit as a whole.

The frustrating part for Ungerer is that the breakdowns have come in different ways: Against Boise State, someone got blown up in protection and gave the Broncos a inside lane to block a relatively low kick. But New Mexico managed to send a defender around the edge, and the kick took a bit too long to get off.

"We've switched up some personnel, and we've worked on getting that down," he said. "We'll correct it."

Kyle Goonkgoon@sltrib.comTwitter: @kylegoon