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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Utah punter Mitch Wishnowsky punts in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017.

SALT LAKE CITY — Junior punter Mitch Wishnowsky continues to kick well, make that extremely well, for the Utah Utes. The reigning Ray Guy Award winner tops the nation in net punting (44.91 yards) and has had only three punts returned all season long. The returns have produced negative yardage each time, totaling a combined minus-12 yards.

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said Wishnowsky is quietly having a terrific year. He noted that net punting is the bottom line because it means that Wishnnownsky is not out-kicking the coverage.

“He is doing a great job of hanging the ball up there,” said Whittingham, who also credits the great “buy in” by the punt coverage team and the great effort they give.

“ Our gunners are doing a great job with Kenric Young and Boobie Hobbs,” Whittingham continued. “So it is a collaborative effort, but Mitch is the catalyst for that, there is no doubt.”

Hobbs, who recovered a fumble on a UCLA punt return last week, is firmly in Wishnowsky’s corner. The Utes are the national leaders in punt return defense (minus-4 yards).

“We pride ourself on getting down there, covering,” Hobbs said. “I’m pretty close with Mitch Wishnowsky and I tell him: ‘You know, I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure you win the Ray Guy Award again.’”

Hobbs vows to bust his butt to get downfield.

“Everybody has that same mentality,” he said.

As for Wishnowsky winning another Ray Guy Award, Hobbs added that “Yes, I’m voting for him. He’s got my vote.”

STEPPING IN: Sophomore offensive lineman Paul Toala saw action at guard and center in the UCLA game, drawing praise from Whittingham.

"I thought Paul played very well. That was a bright spot for the offensive line on Friday. I thought Alani Havili-Katoa, who started the game, struggled a little bit. He is a little banged up and wasn't able to perform the way we wanted him to,” Whittingham said. “Paul came in and did a really good job. Also, Lo Falemaka had to leave the game for a period of time, so Paul also played center for a series or two. That was a big bright spot.”

SPECIAL RECOGNITION: Former Utah running back Mike Anderson, who played in the NFL for eight seasons, will be honored at halftime Saturday as part of a “Veterans Day” celebration. Anderson served in the U.S. Marine Corps for four years before playing college football. He rushed for 2,150 yards over two seasons (1998-99) with the Utes.

"He has been a great ambassador for us and the university. He was a tough player, physical player,” said Whittingham, who noted that the Utes recruited him out of a junior college (Mt. San Jacinto) in California. “He went on to have an excellent pro career with many good years in the NFL. He is a class act. He is quiet, a really humble guy. In a long line of really good running backs, he was among the best.”

EXTRA POINTS: Whittingham is hopeful that starting offensive guard Jordan Agasiva could be back this week. The junior has missed the past two games with an unspecified injury . . . A pregame helicopter flyover and the honoring of other veterans are also scheduled for Saturday. Student veterans from each branch of the military are slated to lead the Utes onto the field . . . Kicker Matt Gay has been named a Lou Groza Award Star of the Week for the third time this season. He leads the nation in field goals made with 21 . . . Utah is 0-2 against teams from the Pac-12 North this year, losing to Stanford (23-20) and Oregon (41-20).

Twitter: @DirkFacer