PROVO — BYU's Riley Stephenson has been sensational this season when it comes to punting the ball.
The senior from St. George is No. 5 in the nation with an average of 47.3 yards per punt. He blasted punts of 52, 55, 56, and 57 yards in the Cougars' 7-6 loss at Boise State last Thursday.
"Last week in particular, his punting was key in us having a chance right to the end of the game," said coach Bronco Mendenhall. "He's been punting very well. I've been very impressed."
Stephenson has also been handling field goal duties, making 4 of 6 attempts. His missed field goal at the end of the Utah game, which BYU lost, 24-21, prevented the contest from going into overtime.
"It was a crazy atmosphere. It's a hostile environment, being in Utah's stadium," he recalled. "But that's every kicker's dream, coming down to the last kick. It was a wild game. It happened so fast."
Just before Stephenson's attempt, the Utes blocked an attempt by the Cougars' other kicker, Justin Sorensen.
"One minute, there were people rushing the field and I thought it was over," Stephenson said.
But a penalty on Utah allowed the Cougars one more shot to tie it up. Stephenson's 36-yard attempt smacked the left upright, ending the game.
"You've got to learn from it," he said. "I don't know what I could have done different. It felt like a PAT. It went to the left a little too much and it hit the pole. I'm not going to change anything. I don't worry about it. I know I have more games this season. There will be other kicks."
Stephenson's strong performance against Boise State proved that he didn't let that miss haunt him.
In last year's victory over Tulsa in the Armed Forces Bowl, Stephenson turned in one of his best games, and he has tried to carry that over into this season.
"I'm just feeding off the bowl game," he said. "A lot of it is having the same mindset we had a year ago at the bowl game. The first game this season was a little shaky, but the other games have been really consistent. If we can pin a team inside the 20, their chances of scoring is really low. If our defense continues to play the way they do, it's going to help our team."
ON A LARK: Senior quarterback James Lark was demoted from second-string to third string last week because freshman Taysom Hill's skill set is similar to injured starter Riley Nelson. It has also allowed the coaching staff to expedite Hill's development.
"He's been getting the majority of reps (in practice)," Mendenhall said. "He was studying diligently last night after practice, doing everything he can to prepare and get ready to play."
And how has Lark dealt with his new spot on the depth chart?
"He's consistent as the next in line, anxiously awaiting his chance, handling it really well," Mendenhall said. "I'm sure if called upon, he'll do well."
Said Nelson: "I love James Lark and respect him. He's one of my best friends. He'll be my friend for my whole life. He's handled this situation with complete and utter class, which I wouldn't have expected any less from him because I know the kind of character that man has. It hasn't been easy and there have been a lot of decisions made that he has no control over. But he realizes that and he still comes out here and puts his heart and soul into it. He has invested into this program as much as anyone who's come through here."
GETTING ZIGGY WITH IT: Senior defensive lineman Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah enjoyed his best game as a Cougar against Boise State.
The 6-foot-6, 270-pounder from Accra, Ghana, recorded 8 tackles, 1 sack and 2.5 tackles-for-loss against Boise State.
"Ziggy is playing at a very high level right now," Mendenhall said.