PROVO — BYU punter and kicker Matt Payne isn't using his body slam techniques as often the past two games.
That's because the Cougar kick and punt cover teams have improved since Payne delivered some crushing blows to return men at Boise State and Colorado State on ESPN.
"I think we're doing a better job, we've worked hard on cutting down how far our opponents are getting down the field," Payne said on Wednesday.
There have also been changes in personnel on BYU's special teams cover squads, Payne said.
The Cougars will try and use that improved part of their game on Saturday when BYU hosts Wyoming at 8 p.m. Saturday. The game will be televised live on KSL-TV, Ch. 5.
"We've inserted some physical experienced players with speed who can get down and make plays on our cover team, and that's really made a difference," Payne said.
Those players would be starting safety Aaron Francisco, starting linebacker Cameron Jensen and walk-on freshman linebacker Matt Bauman.
BYU's punt formation and kickoffs underwent a change this past year when head coach Gary Crowton and special team's coach Paul Tidwell studied the nation's best return and coverage teams. They centered their work on Virginia Tech and adopted parts of what it did.
"Specifically, it wasn't so much the scheme as it was the timing of when we administer the blow on kickoffs, timing it so our return men hit that spot when they have a full head of steam so we have a chance to make a big play," Crowton said.
That has worked lately as freshman return specialist Bryce Mahuika has increased return yardage against CSU and UNLV, giving the offense better field position.
"I think we'll try (freshman) Ray Hudson back there with
Bryce this week because he's been doing such a good job in practice."
Mahuika has seven returns for 184 yards for a 26.3 average. His longest return of a kickoff is 42 yards. On punts, Mahuika has 12 tries for 100 yards and has an 8.3 yard average with a long of 16.
COUGAR NOTES: Cornerback Brandon Heaney, granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA after three shoulder surgeries, is halfway through the year with no setbacks. "It feels great and there has been no problem," Heaney said. "I've taken all kinds of hits from every angle and there's been nothing wrong at all. It feels great to be able to play my game and not worry about my shoulder going out.
Heaney ranks fourth on the defense in tackles with 22 unassisted and 17 assists for a total of 39. He has had three tackles for losses and one interception.
SPEED BUMP: Junior college transfer receiver star Todd Watkins is practicing and running routes, but he is seeing limited action as the Cougars prepare for Wyoming. "They are holding him out of some drills so he'll have a chance to heal with his shoulder and leg," quarterback John Beck said. Watkins suffered a grade 1 shoulder separation in the second quarter of the loss to UNLV last Friday. "I think Todd will be fine by the time the game comes around," Beck said.
Watkins leads the Cougars in receiving with 37 catches for 655 yards and 3 touchdowns. He is averaging 109 yards per game. Austin Collie is second with 34 catches for 363 yards and three scores for a 60.5 average on yards per game.
TURNOVER WORK: After five turnovers in a loss to UNLV, the Cougars kicked in turnover drills this week. They include defensive ploys in take-a-ways with the scout defense using aggressive pokes and punches at receivers. Receivers got attacked with the ball in the left hand and then with the right. If the defense was successful forcing a fumble, the entire offense did 10 pushups. Crowton, however, said his squad is working on this issue, but it is a balance with over-emphasizing a negative. The Cougars had just two turnovers in the previous games at Boise State and CSU.
BYU on the air
Wyoming (4-1) at
LaVell Edwards Stadium
Saturday, 8 p.m.
TV: KSL, Ch. 5
Radio: KSL 1160AM