The Beaver special teams will have their hands full Thursday night when the #20 Utah Utes come to Reser, brining with them the nation’s most prolific special teams unit. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
The Oregon State Beavers will look to right the wrongs of their last contest featuring an opponent from the ranks of the AP Poll as they host the #20 Utah Utes in a Thursday night matchup at Reser Stadium.
The Beaver special teams outscored the offense, 10-0, in a 31-10 losing effort against USC two weeks ago at the Los Angeles Coliseum. While it goes without saying that the Oregon State offense need to be on point, the special teams unit will be critical to maintaining The Beaver’s competitive edge at home.
The Utah Utes boast the nation’s top special teams attack with a combination of speedy returners with eyes for the end zone and a solid kicking game capable of pinning offenses deep in their own territory.
By the numbers, Utah leads the conference by averaging 48 yards per punt. The Utes also have the nation’s most dangerous return man in Kaelin Clay, who already has 3 punt returns for scores in 2014 to go along with one kickoff touchdown return.
Clay helps power Utah’s conference-leading 26.4 yards per kickoff return average and 19.1 punt return average (good for second in the Pac-12).
Sophomore Ute kicker Andy Phillips is a perfect 24 for 24 on extra points this year and has connected on 10 of 12 field goal attempts with a 50-yarder made against Michigan earlier in the season.
Oregon State has a bevy of options in the return game. Victor Bolden has the straight away speed to run past any defense in the nation, but a finger injury sustained against San Diego State in week 3 could hamper his effectiveness maintaining ball security. Beaver safety Ryan Murphy provided the lone score by returning a kick 97-yards against USC for a touchdown, and we’ll get plenty of opportunities to display his elusiveness against the Utes.
While Utah’s special teams rank among the nation’s finest, the Ute offense leaves something to be desired in the consistency department. Utah ranks last in the conference in first downs achieved, a fact that will leave Oregon State’s special teams a chance to strike back on punt returns.
The Beavers will face the best Utah team seen since the Utes joined the conference in 2011. As always, Oregon State will need to play a complete game on both sides of the ball, but the element of special teams will be the determining factor in what could be a statement game for either Oregon State or Utah.