Utah vs. UNLV boxscore

SALT LAKE CITY — Shaky Smithson fielded the punt at his own 23-yard line and just stood there. He hadn't signaled for a fair catch, but stood still as several UNLV defenders closed in on him.

What was Smithson doing?

It turns out Smithson knew exactly what he was doing.

Just before the Rebel defenders got to him, he took two steps to his right, then quickly turned to his left and began winding his way up the left sideline. By the time he was finished, he had gone 77 yards for a touchdown, the sixth-longest punt return in Utah football history.

The third-quarter score was one of two touchdowns on the day for Smithson, who redeemed himself after fumbling twice a week earlier — even if he didn't consider it redemption for himself.

"I wouldn't call it redemption," he said. "I'd just call it a great game."

A week earlier against Pitt, Smithson had fumbled a punt in nearly the same spot on the field where he caught it Saturday and also had fumbled after making a reception. He said he got a lot of support from his coaches and teammates during the week as well as his younger brother, Anthony, for whom he has custody.

"My coaches stressed it the whole week, to just play," he said. "It was also what my brother told me this week. He told me to relax and just have fun, which is what I did. I get the best advice from my brother."

After his miscues last week, Smithson had been replaced as the punt returner during the game, but he was back at returner to receive UNLV's first punt, early in the first quarter. He caught it cleanly and returned it 30 yards up the right side to set up a Utah field goal. He caught two more punts before his nifty play midway through the third quarter.

UNLV punter Brendon Lamers had gotten off a good punt, sending Smithson backward to the 23. When he didn't move for a second, everyone in the stadium probably wondered what the heck he was doing.

"I used to do that in high school," explained Smithson. "When the receiving team comes down on the punt, they usually don't see whether it's a fair catch, so I catch it like I fair-caught it. Then I saw they stopped and I knew it was return left, so I faked two steps right then went left."

Smithson said he sidestepped a couple of defenders then got a "great block" from teammate Greg Bird and was off to the races.

"It's just reaction — you have the ball in your hand and the juices are flowing and you see the end zone," he said.

Earlier in the game, Smithson hauled in a 55-yard touchdown pass from Cain after beating his man.

"It was just a great throw by Terrance," he said. "I beat the corner and the safety went to the tight end. It was a great pass."

Coach Kyle Whittingham said he never gave up on Smithson after his shaky performance a week earlier and was happy to see him perform so well Saturday.

"It was good to see him respond," he said. "He had a rough week last week, but was excellent in the punt return game today. I'm very happy to see him bounce back and have success today."

e-mail: sor@desnews.com