SALT LAKE CITY — Aside from Coleman Petersen's four field goals in four attempts, which earned him Pac-12 special teams player of the week honors, the Utah special teams had a rough day Saturday.
It started with Pittsburgh's 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, followed shortly by a blocked punt for another Pitt touchdown, giving the Panthers a quick 14-3 lead. Later in the fourth quarter, a fourth-down snap sailed wide of punter Nick Marsh, resulting in a big loss and field position for the Panthers at midfield.
Ute coach Kyle Whittingham was not too happy with his special teams play, but had an explanation for a couple of the miscues.
On the long kickoff return, Whitingham said, the team had good coverage, but missed a couple of tackles, allowing the returner to bounce outside. He called it "not a structural error," but "not finishing the play and not wrapping up on the tackles."
The blocked punt was "an assignment error and a miscount on the protection and turned a guy loose right up the middle."
As for the poor snap, Whittingham said the wind was partly to blame, that it "shoved (the ball) to the right," about four feet.
"It was unusual," Whittingham said of the special teams' poor play Saturday. "We usually win the special teams battle going away."
WHO'S THE PUNTER?: So far this year, the Utes have alternated between Sean Sellwood, the punter for the past two years, and Nick Marsh, who came to Utah as a placekicker, but was beaten out by Petersen for placekicking chores this year.
Marsh has punted 18 times for a 40.5-yard average, while Sellwood, a junior from Judge Memorial High, has punted 11 times for a 41.2 average. Sometimes Whittingham said the decision is up to special teams coach Jay Hill, and it depends on the situation in the game.
He said Marsh is good at the "rugby punt," while Sellwood is good at the "sky kicks," hanging the ball up high for good coverage.
"There's no hard and fast rule," he said. "It's just a feel by Jay and which way he wants to go, who's played well and who's done well in practice. Both of them are very capable."
A YEAR AGO: When the first BCS standings were released Sunday, Utah obviously was nowhere to be found with its 3-3 record.
When the initial BCS standings were released a year ago, the Utes were ranked No. 9, just behind Alabama and ahead of Ohio State. Auburn and Oregon, which eventually got the top two spots and played in the National Championship Game, were ranked No. 4 and No. 2, respectively in last year's first poll.
UTE NOTES: The Utes are 3-4 all-time against Cal, winning the last game 37-27 in the 2009 Poinsettia Bowl. ... Besides ranking second in the Pac-12 in six defensive categories, the Utes are tied for the league lead in fumbles recovered. ... The Utes are still ranked last in the league in total offense at 330.8 yards per game. ... Thanks to his 171-yard day rushing, John White has moved up to No. 16 in the nation in rushing at 111.8 yards per game and is still third in the Pac-12 behind Oregon's LaMichael James and Washington's Chris Polk.
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