While it did not decide the game last season, special teams played a key role in Utah's matchup against Stanford. ESPN does a ranking of efficiency for special teams, and Stanford ranks 61st in the nation in that category (Utah is second).
Kicker Jordan Williamson is in his final season on The Farm. His freshman year (2011) does not hold the most fond memories for the senior kicker from Austin, Tex. He missed two kicks (one at the end of the game, and one in overtime) in the 2012 Fiesta Bowl, causing Stanford to lose the game. He rebounded in 2012, making the game winning field goal in overtime in Stanford's upset of the then No. 1 Oregon Ducks at Autzen Stadium. Against Utah last season, Williamson missed his only field goal attempt from 38 yards. This season, Williamson has struggled at times to make kicks. He is only 11-of-17 with a long of 47 yards. He has been a perfect 26-of-26 on extra points this season, however.
Senior Ben Rhyne handles the Cardinal punting duties for the second season in a row. His numbers have not been spectacular. He only averages 39.1 yards per punt, which is down from his respectable 42.9 yards per punt last season.
Kickoff/Punt Return Coverage:
Stanford has to face one of their toughest challenges of the year in Utah wide reliever/return man Kaelin Clay. Stanford has been stout against kickoff returns, allowing only 18.1 yards per return (16th in the nation) on only 1.9 returns per game (tied for 8th). Covering punts has also been a strong suit for the Cardinal who allow only 5.27 yards per return (35th).
In games that are close on paper, special teams can be a deciding factor. Utah has been excellent this year in the special teams department, but they will have to deal with one the most dangerous return men in the country in Ty Montgomery.
This is the area where the Cardinal truly shine. As Utah fans know, Montgomery is a dangerous return man. He had a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against Utah last season. He had two kickoff returns for touchdown last season (against Utah and Washington) and averaged 30.3 yards per return. Montgomery has continued his stellar play this season. His kickoff return numbers are a little down but still excellent. He does not have a kickoff return touchdown and is averaging 25.2 yards per return, though he has multiple returns of over 40 yards. Where he has been spectacular is on punt returns (something he did not do last season). He has taken back two punts for touchdowns (against UC Davis and Oregon State) and is averaging 19.8 yards per return.