The first time the Washington Huskies lined up for a punt against the Utah Utes on Saturday, there wasn’t one.
Korey Durkee instead dropped the snap, Utah wound up taking over at UW’s 32-yard line, and the Utes turned that ideal field position into a touchdown.
It was with that play in mind that when the Huskies next found themselves in a punting situation, with a fourth down at their own 15-yard line, special-teams coordinator Jeff Choate decided not to send Durkee back into a high-pressure situation -- not necessarily because he made a mistake, but because he knew that mistake was likely still weighing on him.
“That (dropped snap)’s the last thing in his mind,” Choate said. “I don’t want him to be in that situation. I don’t think that’s fair to the kid. We want to put our team and every one of our players in the best opportunity to have success, and I just felt like at that particular moment, that was the best decision for our team.”
So he inserted sophomore Tristan Vizcaino, who handles the team’s kickoff duties but practices at every kicking position, for the rest of UW’s punts. Vizcaino mis-hit that first kick from UW’s 15, and it traveled just 25 yards. His next attempt, though, went 49 yards before the ball checked up and the Huskies downed it at Utah’s 4-yard line. His final punt was a 43-yard line drive in the fourth quarter.
“I was excited just to get the opportunity to go out there and do what I’ve been practicing to do for the past two years,” Vizcaino said. “It’s unfortunate what happened with Korey’s play, but you’ve got to be ready to step in any time. The first punt didn’t go as well as expected, but after that I kind of found my bearings and did all right. I was excited. It was a fun time. It was good to be out there.”
The Huskies wanted Vizcaino in part due to his versatility, though he’s mostly kicked off in his two seasons at UW. He had only one career punt prior to last week, and he’s never attempted a field goal. His only career point-after-touchdown came, well, after his one career touchdown, a 2-yard score on a fake field goal against Utah State earlier this season.
In a way, that’s a testament to the depth of UW’s special teams: the Huskies have one player who kicks field goals (junior Cameron Van Winkle, who has made 10-of-12 this season and 30-of-36 in his career), one player who punts (Durkee), and one player, Vizcaino, who handles kickoffs and can back up the other two positions.
The competition between Vizcaino and Durkee has been close.
“We’re friends off the field, and when we get on the field, we support each other,” Vizcaino said. “If one of us has a good punt during practice, we say, ‘hey, good punt.’ We’re just trying to get each other better just so we’re both ready for the game, whoever gets called on, and it’s a constructive competition, for sure.”
Christian Caple can be reached at email@example.com. Twitter: @ChristianCaple