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Commentary: BYU's special teams especially important against tough schedule

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 1 2015 1:00 p.m. MDT

Brigham Young Cougars kicker Justin Sorensen (37) during first half action as BYU plays Idaho in the Cougar's final home football game on 2012  Saturday, Nov. 10, 2012,in Provo, Utah.  
 (Tom Smart, Deseret News) Brigham Young Cougars kicker Justin Sorensen (37) during first half action as BYU plays Idaho in the Cougar's final home football game on 2012 Saturday, Nov. 10, 2012,in Provo, Utah. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

As BYU faces its most difficult schedule in program history, the Cougars will need to step up at several positions.

That especially goes for special teams.

And as Cougar fans know all too well, the kicking game can mean the difference between victory and defeat. After all, three of BYU's five losses last season came by a field goal or less.

If Justin Sorensen could just get back to where he was in high school, BYU would be all set for a kicker. Sorensen was a Parade All-American at Bingham High School, and for good reason. He holds the Utah high school record for the most PATs and field goals.

He also kicked a 62-yard field goal, which is also a state record.

Given such a solid high school career, you'd think that Sorensen would be able to continue to dominate.

Brigham Young Cougars wide receiver JD Falslev (12) celebrates his long run during the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego  Thursday, Dec. 20, 2012.   BYU beat San Diego 23-6.  (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Brigham Young Cougars wide receiver JD Falslev (12) celebrates his long run during the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego Thursday, Dec. 20, 2012. BYU beat San Diego 23-6. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

Sadly for the Cougars, Sorensen's kicking game at BYU is nothing like it was at Bingham.

Sorensen's bad luck began during an LDS mission to Georgia. While there, he suffered a brown recluse spider bite on his kicking leg and then broke his ankle by falling off a porch.

Then, Sorensen underwent surgery to remove a bone spur from his back in the 2012 offseason. Punter Riley Stephenson had to take over BYU's field kicker and extra point duties while Sorensen recovered.

And, if truth be told, Sorensen never did fully recover last season.

Sorensen made only 50 percent of his field goal attempts, and his long was only from 35 yards out. Sorensen wasn't automatic on PATs either as he went 27 for 30.

However, Sorensen is listed as the kicker on BYU's post-spring depth chart. Furthermore, the Cougars haven't used another scholarship on another kicker.

Brigham Young Cougars kicker Justin Sorensen (37) as Brigham Young University defeats Weber State University in football 45-6 Saturday, Sept. 8, 2012, in Provo, Utah.  
 (Tom Smart, Deseret News) Brigham Young Cougars kicker Justin Sorensen (37) as Brigham Young University defeats Weber State University in football 45-6 Saturday, Sept. 8, 2012, in Provo, Utah. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

Sorensen hopefully has recovered from his multiple physical troubles, and he told the Deseret News' Brandon Gurney that, "I feel as good as I have health-wise since coming home from my mission."

But while Sorensen may feel closer to 100 percent, his full abilities hadn't yet returned as of BYU's spring game. Sorensen made a 33-yard field goal, but he also missed a PAT.

While Sorensen is the only kicker on scholarship, Itawamba Community College transfer Tyler Jackson could challenge Sorensen. Jackson also missed a PAT, but he also nailed a 45-yard field goal.

Both Sorensen and Jackson will get a chance to prove themselves come fall camp. However, head coach Bronco Mendenhall told KSL's Jason Shepherd, "We're going to go for it a lot more on fourth (down)" should they continue to struggle kicking field goals.

One player who will be sorely missed in fall camp is Stephenson. Stephenson had a 60-yard or longer punt in five of his games last season, and he had at least a 50-yard punt in all of his games except the Poinsettia Bowl.

His punting ability plus BYU's stellar defense was a dangerous combination.

The Cougars will turn to Scott Arellano with Stephenson gone and graduated. The junior has yet to punt at the college level, so Cougar fans will have to wait and see if he can live up to Stephenson's performance.

However uncertain BYU's kicking game may be, the Cougars have a solid return man in JD Falslev. Falslev was a nightmare for Georgia Tech, with three kick returns for 129 yards. He averaged 26.0 yards on kickoff returns while also picking up 9.5 yards per punt return.

So, regardless of what kind of progress BYU makes on offense, the Cougars will likely face a situation this season where a field goal will mean the difference between victory and defeat. BYU fans better hope that the Cougars' kicking game is up to the challenge in 2013.

Lafe Peavler is a national college football featured columnist for the Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @MasterPeavler

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