Provo • When BYU football coaches watch film of last December’s 31-16 loss to Washington in the Fight Hunger Bowl, it quickly becomes clear why the Cougars failed to extend their bowl winning streak to five.
"Special teams play killed us," said outside linebackers coach and special teams coordinator Kelly Poppinga. "If that doesn’t happen in the Washington game, I believe we have a really good chance to win that game."
BYU vs. ConnecticutAt Rentschler Field, East Hartford, Conn.
Aug. 29, 5 p.m MDT
TV » ESPN
The Cougars gave up an electrifying 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to UW’s John Ross, and a 47-yard kickoff return by Jesse Callier.
Punter Scott Arellano shanked a punt to give the Huskies excellent field position. Justin Sorensen kicked 45-, 31- and 32-yard field goals in the first half when drives stalled, but missed a 44-yarder in the second half that would have made it a one-score game after Robertson Daniel returned an interception to the Washington 11.
"We were playing a lot of guys that, first of all, didn’t have much game experience, and second of all weren’t the best athletes. And we got exposed and, in my opinion, it cost us the game," Poppinga said.
Poppinga said the Cougars were solid on punt and kickoff coverage most of the season, but players who were pulling double-duty got tired due to the offense’s tempo, injuries and the lack of depth.
Head coach Bronco Mendenhall wants the best athletes on the team on coverage teams this season.
"And that is what you are going to see," Poppinga said. "You are going to see a lot of starters, or you are going to see a lot of guys that are really good athletes out there running down the field. … I feel like we have a bigger pool than ever on special teams to choose from, and I am just anxious to get those guys out there and make some plays for us."
Special teams taking shape
The Cougars caught a break when deep snapper Kevin O’Mary was awarded an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA, so they are set there.
Despite the shank against UW, Arellano was solid in 2013 and should have a decent season if he can get punts off just a half-second quicker. "Scott Arellano is kicking the ball really well," Poppinga said.
Adam Hine returns as the primary kick returner after a sensational year in that spot, and will likely be joined near the goal line by UTEP transfer Jordan Leslie or Devon Blackmon, Poppinga said.
"Punt return right now, going into the game, we would probably go with Keanu Nelson, but it is still a battle between him, Jordan Leslie, and I would say Michael Shelton would be in that mix," Poppinga said, noting that those players aren’t as shifty and quick as 2013 punt returner JD Falslev, but perhaps faster.
The battle to be the placekicker has gone on since spring between senior Trevor Samson and sophomore Vance "Moose" Bingham. Mendenhall said Samson is a few percentage points ahead, and Poppinga seconded that notion.
"I would say right now Trevor Samson, if we had to go today, would be our kicker," Poppinga said. "He has a little stronger leg, and he has been consistent over time."
BYU receiver Ross Apo has been named to the Earl Campbell-Tyler Rose Award Watch List for the second straight year. The award recognizes the top offensive player in Division I football who also exhibits integrity, performance, teamwork and sportsmanship. Nominees must be from Texas or play at a Texas-based college.
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