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Utah Opponent Preview: Arizona Special Teams

We breakdown the Arizona special teams in preparation for the matchup between ranked opponents in Rice-Eccles Stadium when the No. 17 Utah Utes (7-3, 4-3 in conference) host the No. 15 Arizona Wildcats on today at 1:30 p.m. MT.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Utah's winning formula this season has included a huge contribution from their special teams. Arizona has been strong in special teams this season as well. With a matchup between two teams that so often play in close games, special teams could be the factor that decides who wins.


Casey Skowron has been decent kicking the ball this season. He is 17-of-24 kicking field goals (long of 49) and a perfect 41-of-41 on extra points. Skowron was the goat against USC, missing two field goals (including what would have been the game winner) after being iced by USC head coach Steve Sarkisian. He turned in a fantastic performance against the Washington Huskies. He scored an 18-yard touchdown on a fake field goal and made a 47-yard field goal as time expired to give Arizona the 27-26 win.

Drew Riggleman has been excellent punting the ball this season. He is sixth in the nation with 45.7 yards per punt. His long punt is 70 yards, which he hit against UCLA. He has not had a punt blocked this season. And, as expected, he's been able to flip the field this season for Arizona.

Kickoff/Punt Return Coverage:

Arizona has been strong covering kickoff returns, only allowing 18.3 yards per return (20th in the nation). They also have not allowed a single return for a touchdown. Utah's Kaelin Clay, who has four return touchdowns (three punt returns and one kickoff), will present one of the toughest challenges for Arizona's kickoff coverage team. Skowron only kicks a touchback on 57.8% of his kicks.

Arizona has not allowed a punt return touchdown but allows 9.0 yards per return (88th). Arizona has given up three punt returns of over 20 yards. Clay will again present a challenge, especially if Riggleman out kicks his coverage.

Kickoff/Punt Returns:

Arizona has returned one kickoff for a touchdown, against Washington State. Despite the kickoff return touchdown, Arizona has struggled returning kicks at times. They only average 19.5 yards per return (98th).

Largely due to DaVonté Neal, Arizona has excelled returning punts. Neal has one punt return for a touchdown. While he only has seven punt returns, he averages 18.7 yards per return. Utah's punt coverage team will need to be disciplined, but with Tom Hackett, Neal is likely to be taken out of the game.

Arizona has made some big plays in special teams with a kickoff return touchdown, a punt return touchdown, and a fake field goal run for a touchdown, but Utah has largely been able to contain big plays. Keeping the ball away from Neal will be key, and it is doable with touchbacks on kickoffs and kicking away from him on punts.