Cam Rising punting twice on Saturday night in the University of Utah’s critical Pac-12 South win over UCLA was not a spur-of-the-moment choice by Kyle Whittingham.
The Utes head coach and his standout fourth-year sophomore quarterback had a plan.
Utah’s special teams was a group in need of a spark. During their 42-34 loss at Oregon State last month, Utes punter Cameron Peasley had one blocked punt returned for a touchdown, then had a second punt blocked, but that play was waved off due to a penalty on the Beavers.
So early last week, as preparations began for the Bruins, Rising approached Whittingham and said he could punt if need be.
It wasn’t a joke.
As a senior at Newbury Park (Calif.) High School in 2018, Rising was the All-CIF Southern Section Division 3 punter after averaging 36.6 yards on 13 attempts. Of those 13 attempts, Rising put six inside the 20-yard line and had a long of 62.
It all came back to Rising quickly.
“I probably punted a few times one day, then probably got three reps during the week,” Rising said Monday afternoon after practice.
With the memory of special teams woes in Corvallis still fresh in Whittingham’s mind last week, here came Rising, complete with a punting resume, willing to lend a hand. Whittingham, a former special teams coach who still takes an active role in that phase, got on board with Rising’s offer, but only if the situation presented itself. He had no intention of lining up Rising 15 yards behind the line of scrimmage for a traditional punt.
“I talked with Coach Whitt about it and we knew that going in we may go with it,” Rising said. “We had some guys out there who played gunner before, so we were ready for it.”
On fourth-and-4 from the UCLA 44, Utah lined up to go for it on fourth down, but Rising took a shotgun snap and deftly quick-kicked it 35 yards out of bounds down to the 9.
About midway through the fourth quarter, with the Utes leading, 35-24, Utah lined up to go for it on fourth-and-1 at the UCLA 49, but Rising again quick-kicked a shotgun snap. The kick appeared destined for a touchback, but the ball bounced at the 5 before Money Parks downed it at the 6. On the first play of the ensuing UCLA drive, defensive tackle Hauati Pututau sacked Bruins quarterback Ethan Garbers in the end zone for a safety.
Said Whittingham: “It’s a good weapon and in particular, in this day and age where more people are going for fourth downs in that 40-to-40 range (between the two 40-yard lines). On a fourth-and-short, that’s a great spot to utilize it. If teams play safeties deep to guard against it, you run an offensive play and you have an advantage there.”
The Utah athletic communications staff submitted Rising’s name to the Pac-12 office for Special Teams Player of the Week consideration. Rising received votes, but did not get the award, which went to Washington kicker Peyton Henry, who hit four field goals in as many tries in a 20-13 road win at Stanford.
Whittingham on Monday would not commit to having Rising continuing to quick-kick as Utah prepares to face Stanford on Friday night in Palo Alto (8:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1), but he didn’t exactly rule it out either. As was the case vs. UCLA, Friday night is likely to be a situational, wait-and-see approach for something that clearly worked to Utah’s advantage last week.
Jadon Redding vs. Jordan Noyes, again
Whittingham half-jokingly said that Rising will not be his kicker at Stanford, but for what it’s worth, the Utes’ coach doesn’t know who his kicker will be at all on Friday night.
After Jadon Redding kicked both fourth-quarter extra points vs. UCLA, Whittingham said Monday there is an open competition this week between Redding and Jordan Noyes.
This is the second time Utah’s kicking job is up for grabs in the middle of the season. Redding, last season’s All-Pac-12 first-team kicker, had the job to start the season, but lost a bye-week competition to Noyes after going 5-for-8 on field goal attempts across the first four games.
A week after missing a 52-yard field goal attempt at Oregon State, Noyes pushed a 47-yard attempt early in the third quarter vs. the Bruins wide to the left. That was his last appearance of the night. Whittingham on Monday called the 47-yard miss “very makeable.”
For the season, Redding and Noyes are a combined 7-for-12 on field goal attempts (58.3%). Noyes is 21-for-21 on PATs, while Redding is 11-for-13.
“Eighty percent is our goal, so we’re not faring well in place-kicking,” Whittingham said. “When you have two good kickers and they’re battling, you have to try and be as fair as you can, so Jadon is now getting his opportunity. He was the All-Pac-12 kicker last year, so we know he has it in him.”