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Utes' kicking game proved to be a plus

Utah punter Louis Sakoda did a solid job for the Utes in their season-opening victory over Arizona last week.
Utah punter Louis Sakoda did a solid job for the Utes in their season-opening victory over Arizona last week.
Scott G. Winterton, Deseret Morning News

Utah got its kicks in Friday's 27-24 win over Arizona.

Contributions by kicker Dan Beardall and punter Louie Sakoda proved to be a pleasant surprise and, as it turned out, quite necessary.

"The kicking game was a question mark. Hopefully what we saw Friday night will be a sign of what's going to transpire the rest of the season," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "You never know. Kicking is a fickle situation at best."

It wasn't in the Utes' opener.

Beardall, a senior, was named Mountain West Conference special teams player of the week after making two field goals (from 36 and 45 yards) and three PATs in his first game as Utah's primary kicker.

"It was awesome," Beardall said. "It's something I've been looking forward to for a long, long time — fighting through injuries and getting to this point."

Beardall, an American Fork High and Snow College alum, fought through a groin injury last season and saw limited playing time — making both extra points he attempted. The frustrating injury opened the door for freshman David Carroll, who went on to great success before leaving on an LDS Church mission after the Fiesta Bowl.

Competition between Utah's kickers is keen, Beardall explained, but not as strong as their friendships. Whoever wins the position is supported by the others.

"Dan Beardall did a nice job," said Whittingham, who was also impressed with Sakoda, calling his performance a career night.

The true freshman stuck five punts inside the Arizona 20.

"I thought he showed great poise," Whittingham said. "He got it out quickly and up with some good hang time."

The Wildcats returned just one of Sakoda's seven punts in the game and failed to gain any yardage.

"Kicking got off to a good start," Whittingham said. "Let's hope it stays that way."

WEDDLE HONORED: Junior safety Eric Weddle was named Mountain West Conference defensive player of the week for his performance in the win over Arizona. Weddle led the Utes with 10 tackles and a 24-yard interception return for a touchdown. He also had 1.5 tackles for loss and forced a fumble.

"It's an awesome honor, but I couldn't have done it without my teammates. They put me in position to make plays and the coaching staff coached me up," Weddle said. "Hopefully we can keep on having production out of the defense and get a guy Mountain West Conference honors every week."

TCU quarterback Tye Gunn, who led the Horned Frogs to a 17-10 upset win at Oklahoma, was named the league's Offensive Player of the Week.

NOT A PROBLEM: Whittingham wasn't surprised or upset that the Utes were once again excluded from the college football polls this week — despite a school-record 17 consecutive victories.

"That's irrelevant at this point. That's neither here nor there," Whittingham said. "We don't pay much attention to that. Especially this time of year. If we take care of our business, good things will happen."

MORE MOKIFISI: Sophomore linebacker Malakai Mokofisi had a memorable first start for the Utes. He made seven tackles, including one behind the line of scrimmage, and recovered a fumble.

After the game, he received some advice from a knowledgeable uncle — former Utah and East High star Felipo Mokofisi, a four-year letterman and all-conference performer for the Utes from 1982-85.

"He just said 'You've got to keep on improving' and stuff like that," said Malakai, who noted that Felipo also told him he did a good job.

Saturday's game

Utah State (0-0)

at Utah (1-0)

Saturday, 6 p.m.

Rice-Eccles Stadium

TV: Ch. 14

Radio: KALL 700AM, KVNU 610AM (Logan)