Louie Sakoda spent most of the past week working on high field-goal kicking technique, feeling like he'd been struggling with it.
"And I didn't concentrate as much on punting which apparently showed," said the University of Utah junior from San Jose, Calif., on Saturday afternoon.
The work he put in on field goals also showed when he jumped at the chance to try his career long of 51 yards, which he easily made at 11:21 of the second quarter in Utah's 23-6 win over San Diego State at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
"We were going to go out and punt it," Sakoda said.
But Utah had the wrong players on the field, so the Utes called timeout.
"And then coach Whit (Kyle Whittingham) came up to me and was like, 'You can make this, right? You've got this. How far is this?'" Sakoda said. "I was like, 'Oh, it's about 51,' and he was like, 'Let's kick it.' And I was like, 'Yes!' I've only had one attempt over 50, and that was last year against TCU, and that was 50, and I had missed it."
Said Whittingham: "As I looked at the spot and felt the wind, I thought, 'Hey, you know what? Let's try the field goal.' If we hadn't had a personnel issue, we probably would have punted. That's right at the edge of Louie's range. But I talked to Louie, and he said, 'Coach, I can get this one.' And if he says it, I'll believe it."
The personnel issue turned out to be "a blessing in disguise," Whittingham said.
Sakoda will remember that moment, but he said he'll also rehash his fake 41-yard field goal with 13:25 left in the game. Sakoda tried to run right and pass back to his left to holder Bradon Godfrey. He completed the pass, but the timing was off, and Godfrey gained just 1 yard on a fourth-and-12.
"Today I didn't get the best grip on the ball, rushed the throw," he said. "It was wide open for a touchdown. That's something that I've got to put behind me. It will be hard. I will be thinking about it all weekend."
His punts were below his 44.9 average, rounding out to less than 36 yards.
"I felt a little bit of pressure from their punt rush," he said. "Usually that doesn't affect me. The most important thing about punting is your drop, and when you're not focusing, you get bad drops, and the result is bad punts like I had today. But luckily it was a game where punting wasn't too crucial. I know what I'll be working on this week."
Two of Sakoda's punts were downed inside the 20, shortening his average.
MACK TRUCK: Darrell Mack had his fourth 100-yard-or-better rushing game this season (the third in a row) with 131 yards on 22 carries. Utah is 4-0 when he hits triple figures. His six catches and 45 yards receiving were both career highs.EXTRA POINTS: Sakoda's 51-yard field goal was Utah's longest since 2002, when Bryan Borreson booted a 53-yarder against Arizona ... Derrek Richards' five catches give him 108 for his career, 11th all-time at Utah ... Longtime former Ute assistant coach Jugi Hogue, now retired, attended the game. He was on Ron McBride's staff at Utah and for a year at Weber State ... Ten Utes combined for 10 tackles-for-loss, six teamed up for a season-high five sacks and five players assisted on six pass breakups. Nine receivers caught passes for Utah ... The Utes now lead the all-time series with the Aztecs, 14-12-1 ... A scout from the NFL's Buffalo Bills attended the game ... The paid attendance was 40,898. Perhaps half did not attend the game because of inclement weather.
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