MAACO Bowl Las Vegas Breakdown: Special Teams
Boise State Special Teams
The MAACO Bowl Las Vegas XIX will provide an intriguing special teams matchup between two teams with big play capabilities in the return game. For Boise State, strong punt and kick return coverage will be a must for a unit that has been susceptible to giving up chunks of yardage on special teams all season long. Fortunately for the Broncos they boast a slew of explosive return men who can impact the game's outcome with every touch.
On special teams coverage, Boise State enters the game ranked just 69th nationally in net punting (36.10 ypp) while allowing an average of 10.5 yards per punt return. The Broncos did only allow one punt return touchdown this year however, which came against Oregon State as James Rodgers scored on a 58-yard punt return touchdown.
Boise State has seen a similar trend in its kick coverage allowing 21.5 yards per kickoff return. The Broncos have also allowed three kick returns of 40 yards or more, but part of that stems from the number of times Boise State kicks off per game. The Broncos kicked off an average of seven times per game in 2010 giving their opponents plenty of opportunities to make plays on special teams.
The Boise State return game provided plenty of headaches for opposing special teams units this season with several players showing their ability to make big plays on any return. Juniors Chris Potter and Mitch Burroughs have shared the bulk of punt return duties for the Broncos, while senior Titus Young has been the primary kick returner all year long.
Potter (5-9, 160), a Westlake Village, Calif. (Oaks Christian HS) native, currently ranks 15th nationally in punt return average (13.24 ypp) on a team high 21 punt returns. His biggest punt return moment of the season came at the University of Idaho when he took the game's first punt 76 yards for a touchdown.
Burroughs (5-9, 188), a Meridian, Idaho (Meridian HS) native, returned eight punts for an average of 15.9 yards per return despite missing multiple games due to injury.
Young (5-11, 175), a Los Angeles, Calif. (University HS) native, has handled 23 of Boise State's 31 kick returns this season with an average of 23.9 yards per return. Young made his presence felt on special teams in 2009 returning two kickoffs for touchdown. This year his longest return thus far was for 58 yards.
Boise State will look to Potter, Burroughs and Young to help win the field position battle, which could prove to be critical against the Utes.
Utah Special Teams
One name will always lead the conversation when talking about Utah special teams. That name is Shaky Smithson. Smithson (5-11, 202), a senior from Baltimore, Md. (East Los Angeles HS), finished the regular season as one of the most dangerous return men in the country both on punts and kickoffs. He currently leads the nation in punt return average (19.72), which has helped land him on six different All-America teams this fall.
Smithson has returned two punt returns for touchdown, with his longest punt return touchdown spanning 78 yards. He has also handled a bulk of the Utes kick return responsibilities, averaging 24.1 yards per return on 20 attempts.
Smithson hasn't been the only kick return weapon for Utah this year however, as sophomore Reggie Dunn has also provided an explosive presence on kickoff returns. Dunn (6-0, 170), a Compton, Calif. (Compton CC) native, has returned 10 kicks this year for an average of 29.8 yards per return. He also scored the lone kickoff return for touchdown this season for the Utes.
As a team, Utah has been successful in keeping opponents at bay on special teams allowing just 18.8 yards per kick return and 9.8 yards per punt return all season. The Utes haven't fared so well in net punting however, ranking No. 103 nationally with an average of 33.76 yards per punt.
Utah will look to utilize its athletic return men, while also slowing down Boise State's dynamic special teams players, to gain an advantage in a game that has the potential to display absolutely electric special teams play.
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