Despite winning their first six games, the Utah football team had gotten off to some slow starts this year. Last week the Utes spotted North Carolina a 7-0 lead and last month they fell behind Air Force 14-0.
They weren't about to let that happen Saturday night against UNLV.
So the Utes executed a perfect reverse on the opening kickoff and before most fans had even settled into their seats, they owned a 7-0 lead thanks to a 100-yard kickoff return.
It was the first of several key plays by the special teams, which also provided the Utes with a touchdown off a blocked punt and set up another with a blocked punt in the first quarter.
"The special teams kicked it off and was a big part of our gameplan tonight," said Bo Nagahi, who took the opening kickoff and pitched to Morgan Scalley, who went the final 90 yards of the scintillating opening play.
Then on UNLV's first possession, the Utes' Grady Marshall blocked his third punt of the season to set up a touchdown on the ensuing play. In the third quarter, the "Utah man" Billy Kinsey broke through to block a punt that was recovered by Shaun Harper in the end zone to make it 63-21.
"We had some really good schemes tonight and, fortunately, every one of them worked," said Marshall, who plays on all the special teams. "It was a dream game for us."
On the opening kickoff, Nagahi took the ball five or six yards deep in the end zone and headed up the east sideline. All of a sudden, he pitched the ball at the 10-yard line to Scalley, coming back from the 20-yard line, and was promptly smothered by the Rebels' defense.
Scalley found himself wide open heading up the right side of the field with only one man to beat. Marshall put a block on the UNLV player and it was clear sailing for Scalley.
"Credit Grady Marshall with the block," said Scalley. "My (4-year-old) nephew could have run that one in — just pitch him the ball and let him run."
"I told him, 'No one's going to touch you' and sure enough that's what happened," said Marshall.
The Utes had been practicing the return all week, but as Nagahi said, "Usually we plan things and we don't get a chance to do it, because they kick the ball out of bounds or something."
Also, the Utes don't usually try to return a kickoff deep in the end zone, but when Nagahi didn't see Scalley telling him to down the ball, he took off.
"I said 'let's go with it' and it was a great decision that I came out," Nagahi said. "They still thought I had the ball. I was excited to get up and see where Morgan was at. When I saw him running in the end zone, that was the greatest thing I've ever seen."
The first blocked punt came just a few minutes after the kickoff return, as Marshall found a gap on the left side and cleanly blocked Gary Cook's punt. Derrek Richards recovered it at the UNLV 27 and Marshall said the special teams were "yelled at" for not trying to advance the ball.
So when they got another chance late in the third quarter, they didn't disappoint. After Kinsey blocked the punt, Shaun Harper scooped up the ball, dropped it and several Utes pushed the ball toward the end zone where Harper fell on it for the touchdown.
"In my mind that was a score for all of us," said Marshall. "It was really special."
A special night indeed for the special teams.