Ute special teams are truly special

SALT LAKE CITY ? Hall of Fame

football coach George Allen is

widely recognized as the “Father of Special Teams.” Allen, while a


football coach at heart, emphasized

special teams play and is the first NFL head coach to hire an

assistant coach dedicated to special teams. I’m guessing that if

Allen is watching the

University of Utah

football team play from that big

sideline in the sky this season, he is probably smiling.

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham’s team has been explosive and

dominant in the area of special teams this year. Credit goes to

special teams coach Jay Hill and the guys on the various units for

their ability to change the momentum and field position in just

about every game Utah has played so far this season. I asked

Whittingham what makes a great special teams unit, and he told me

it’s getting guys who don’t always play a ton to buy in and make it

their priority. That is exactly what’s happened for the Utes. When

you look at the Utah special teams unit, the first thing that jumps

out at you is Shaky Smithson ? and with good reason. The senior

from Baltimore has become one of the most dangerous return men in

all of


football. Smithson is third in the

NCAA in punt returns, averaging 23.4 yards per return with one

touchdown, and he ranks third in the Mountain West in kickoff

returns, averaging 28.6 yards per return. Smithson is also the only

NCAA player with three 70-plus yard punt returns this season and

has already been named the Mountain West Conference special teams

player of the week three times this year. Then you throw in

newcomer Reggie Dunn and his 100-yard kickoff return for a

touchdown last week in Ames, Iowa, and the Utes have more speed and

weapons than they’ve had in a long time in the return game. As a

team, the Utes lead the nation in kick-return average and rank

third in the country in punt return yardage. You get the sense that

any time and every time the ball is kicked to Utah this season, a

big play is on the horizon. Smithson and Dunn are the headline

guys, but there are a number of Utes who have contributed to the

special teams’ dominance. Junior Greg Bird has delivered a number

of huge blocks to spring Smithson, and freshman Mike Honeycutt has

blocked a punt and made a touchdown-saving tackle on a kick return

against San Jose State. In both 2004 and 2008, Utah was outstanding

in the area of special teams, and we know how those seasons worked

out for the Utes. I’m not saying that 2010 will have the same

conclusion as ’04 and ’08, because there is still a ton of

football to be played. But as good

as those teams were, they weren’t as explosive or as talented in

the kicking and return games as this edition of the Utes. Utah

heads to Laramie this weekend for a final time as a member of the

Mountain West Conference. I’m not sure they will need a huge day

from the special teams to beat this version of the ‘Pokes. Wyoming

is coming off a 45-0 loss to TCU last weekend. Oftentimes we use

the phrase “stranger things have happened” when talking about

potential upsets. Well, Laramie is known for “stranger things” when

it comes to Utah-Wyoming matchups, but I’m not sure things can get

strange enough for the Cowboys to beat the Utes this time around.

I’ll talk to you on the radio Saturday afternoon from War Memorial

Stadium. Bill Riley can be heard as the radio voice of the

University of Utah on gamedays and

also on weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on the “Bill and Spence Show” on

ESPN Radio 700 AM. TWITTER: espn700bill