It had been almost exactly three years since the last time that the BYU football team blocked a punt. Cougar linebacker Morgan Unga broke through and blocked a punt attempt against UMass in BYU’s 51-9 victory in Provo in 2016.
But the Cougars ended that streak last Saturday in their 42-10 victory over Idaho State at LaVell Edwards Stadium. Junior tight end Kyle Griffitts rammed into the Bengal upback and drove him right into the path of the punt, sending it ricocheting sideways across the field instead of soaring deep toward the other end.
“It was a heck of a play by Kyle,” BYU assistant coach/special teams coordinator Ed Lamb said after practice on Tuesday. “(Running backs coach) AJ Steward is our punt return coach and he identified during the week that if we brought a physical presence that there might be an opportunity to push the shield guy back into the punter.”
Lamb explained that the Cougars considered risking rushing more guys because the odds of getting the block would improve — but it would lessen the chance of a good punt return.
“The right ratio would be to get a nice return or two and a block,” Lamb said. “It was a heck of a day on that phase of the special teams.”
That success was certainly noteworthy as it set up a 26-yard BYU touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Zach Wilson to senior wide receiver Talon Shumway.
But — just as in the other two phases of the game — the Cougar special teams also had a moment where the execution wasn’t at the level it wanted to be at.
BYU’s offense had a first-and-goal at the 9-yard line near the end of the first half, but an incompletion and two straight negative plays forced the Cougars to call for the field goal unit.
BYU sophomore Jake Oldroyd lined up the 38-yard kick — but pushed it wide right.
BYU head coach Kalani Sitake said after the game on Saturday that the field-goal kicking issues are something he is paying attention to.
“I’m concerned about everything,” Sitake said. “I was worried about taking the timeout because I worry about freezing my guy — but that’s a kick he should be able to make in his sleep. I thought the snap and hold were good. Jake will have to be accountable for that. Those are points that we should have on the board and he knows that he owes the team that. We have a lot of trust in him but we have a lot of guys who can kick the ball too, so the competition will continue.”
After starting the season making 10-of-11 field goal attempts, Oldroyd has hit just four of his last nine tries.
“All elements are being addressed: the protection, the snap, the hold, the kick, the kicker,” Lamb said. “We’re in a slump right now. We’re not as good as we should be.”
Kickers are the most specialized athletes on the team but Lamb said Oldroyd and the other specialists are treated the same way as anyone else.
“There are no magic words,” Lamb said. “What most athletes appreciate most of the time is to be held accountable, to know when a result is not acceptable, and then to show confidence in them going forward. The script when a guy comes off the field at any position for BYU is ‘hey, you can do better than that. I know you can. Here’s maybe a correction I can see. Get back in there and let’s get it done.’”
Lamb said the while Oldroyd’s slump has been visible, he wants to see everyone on that unit be more consistent.
“Kickers understand as do the other players that when a team loses and the head coach is asked a question, he’s not going to single out the mistakes of an assistant coach or an individual player,” Lamb said. “They take the blame on themselves. Kickers and quarterbacks do the same thing but the reality is that no kicker kicks in a vacuum. The protection, the snap, the hold, the kick, all of those things need to improve.”