It’s red vs blue, church vs state, the Cougars vs the Utes. When you break it down though, there are a lot more moving parts that make up a rivalry game. It’s more than the Cougarettes vs Ute cheerleaders or Cosmo vs Swoop. There are 22 players on the field at a time. Each player has a specific position with a role they need to fulfill to help their team win. It’s time to break down a very important position for one of the most heated rivalries in college football.
The Kicker: While basketball is a make or miss league, football is as well when it comes to the kicking game. If you make it you’re a hero. If you miss it you’re a zero, at least in the eyes of many fans.
This rivalry has seen plenty of heroes that put the “foot” in “football”. One BYU kicker once won the game 3 times for the Utes even though Ute fans nearly lost the game the same amount of times in 2012.
This year there will be plenty of new faces in the rivalry in the kicking game as well as a couple of familiar faces. Let’s find out just who these guys are behind the helmets.
Utah has a history of great special teams, defense and running. The 2017 Lou Groza award winner was hand picked out of Orem High School in Cougar country and boy did he set records. He set the PAC-12 conference record with 30 made kicks in 2017. Just how will the Utes replace him as well as their all-time great Australian punter Mitch Wishnowsky? The answer might surprise you.
The initial consensus going into the offseason was that the previous backup kicker Chayden Johnston. He competed hard with Matt Gay and initially was named the starter until he missed a 45 yard field goal against North Dakota. Matt Gay was then given the reigns and never looked back.
Although this Bingham High Miner was the front runner to be the starting kicker this season, he has given up football after using only one year of eligibility. You can literally count on one hand the number of collegiate kicks he’s made.
This means that the Utes might have to look outside of the Beehive State to keep up the great kicking game. The saying always goes that you don’t want to be the guy who replaces the guy. Well, the Utes will have to replace two guys and their golden toes. These are the replacements:
Jason Redding: With the projected starter out, the Utes turn to a walk on who was reportedly well behind Johnston in spring practice. He was a little spotty as he missed some kicks he should have made in the offseason practices.
Jason hails from all the way back east. He is even an hour and a half east of former Cougar and current Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall. His high school stats were impressive. He won all-State honors twice as he made the first team as a senior.
Redding set his school record for longest field goal at 45 yards and then broke his own record with a fifty yard make. In addition to discovering his role on the team, Redding is also trying to discover his future beyond beyond football as the sophomore has yet to choose a major.
Andrew Strauch: This UCLA transfer was vital once Chayden Johnston left the program. Let’s face it. There’s a reason Redding is a walk-on. He has been very shaky with a hook in the spring game and inconsistent play in practice.
Although he was relatively successful in the time he played for the Bruins, it was very limited time. He was 1 for 2 on field goals and a perfect 9-9 on extra points when he was briefly the starter for the Blue and Gold in 2016. He was then called to the bench for most of his college career despite some punting action last year.
Andrew will now have a chance to compete against Redding for the top spot. He has proven solid but it doesn’t look like he will be a Lou Groza kicker of the year like Matt Gay was. This small sample size shows that he has an accurate short game and a decent mid game. Both his made and missed field goals were in the 30-39 yard range.
Ben Lennon: Here is another good Australian punter for the Utes. He is walking in the footsteps of Hackett and Wishnowsky. With professional experience, Lennon looks to be another amazing punter for the Utes and who knows? Maybe he’ll dabble in some field goal kicking too.
Ben played for the Richmond Football Club in the Australian Football league. He was rated an Under 18 All-Australian in his youth. Despite having a history of health issues, Lennon is one tough Aussie and may be just the player the Utes need to continue their quest for the Rose Bowl.
Jake Oldroyd: Before his two year church service in the Chile, Osorno LDS mission, Jake Oldroyd was quite the big man on campus for BYU. Now two years later he is back in Provo and ready for more!
He was the hero of the season opener in 2016 after his game winning 33 yard field goal propelled BYU to a gritty 18-16 win vs Arizona. Although Arizona wasn’t very good with just a 3 win season, BYU turned out to be pretty good with 9 wins that year and Jake Oldroyd was a big part of that early on in the season.
He also made the only extra point he attempted as he split a lot of kicking duties with Rhett Almond. He made 75% of his kicks with the lone miss being a blocked 55 yard field goal against UCLA.
Jake Oldroyd‘s resume is a little better that Andrew Strauch but not by a lot. Unless he has been getting kicking reps with his mission companion’s backpacks for the last two years, he won’t have the practice reps that the Ute counterparts have had. It will be interesting to see how he evolves throughout the year.
Skyler Southam: While Oldroyd was an Elder braving volcanoes, eating completos (Chilean hot dogs) and trudging through the rain, Southam was doing his thing in the Northern Hemisphere. He was 11 for 16 on field goals in his first season so his percentage at 68.7% was a little less accurate than Oldroyd of old. However, it was a larger sample size so there was more opportunities for error.
While he didn’t have the game winning field goal as the clock expired, he is partly responsible for getting BYU back to a bowl game after their abysmal 4 win season in 2017.
One weakness Skyler along with most of these kickers on both sides of the rivalry have is the long game. The two BYU kickers are a combined 0 for 3 from 50+ yards. The former Ute and current Tampa Bay Buccaneers kicker Matt Gay made 8 such kicks from that range with his longest being a 56 yard one in 2017.
Danny Jones: Another Aussie looks to be a starting punter in the Beehive State. Jones was beat out by Almond last year but did a decent job with his 8 punts in 6 games of action last year.
Jones can kick with either foot but he prefers to kick as a lefty. That can cause some hooks but he has some good practice under his belt and is acclimated to the unique culture of Provo with a year under his belt.
Bottom Line: While I don’t see the Holy War coming down to a game winning field goal, all the points make a difference. To be honest, Utah State kicker Dominik Eberle is the best in the state but for the sake of this rivalry it’s time to give out awards for the best kickers of the Holy War this year.
Most Clutch Kicker: Jake Oldroyd
Jake has proven it. With the game on the line I would pick Jake to win it out of any of these guys. I don’t know how his long game will be but he did prove he could make a short one in a tough road environment with immense pressure against Arizona. I would pick Jake all day for this important component of kicking.
Best Kicker: Skyler Southam
This is starting to sound like a bunch of homers from Provo but the fact is that BYU has more experience in the kicking game and the Utes do have some question marks at that position. With makes in the 40-49 range and a solid kicking game overall, I would make Skyler the kicker in the long game and allow Jake Oldroyd to continue his perfect streak on extra points and maybe even pull off a game winner
Best Punter: Ben Lennon
The Utes have a history of good Australian kickers and it will continue with Ben Lennon who has professional experience.
Best Kicking Coaches: This is obviously the Utes. While they won’t throw long bombs like Chip Kelly’s 2010 Oregon or the old Lavell Edwards coached BYU games, the bread and butter for the Utes has been defense, running and special teams. Expect that to continue and for all the Ute kickers to have more improvement and maybe even the better overall college careers.
In game 1 I would take the BYU kickers but the punting from the Utes could flip the field so much that BYU might be crossing the fifty yard line as often as they did against LSU two years ago. Ok they should at least cross more than 0 times but it will be hard to get there when the BYU quarterback is calling signals from his own end zone.
It is a big game and every point counts, even from the kickers!