Defending Utah’s Trick Kickoff Return Turned Safety

The media is on Utah’s dumbest safety ever” kick return play like Provo All-Stars on a free tanning bed. Obviously, I am not arguing the kick return pass play was successful. There is no denying that the execution was horrible, leaving millions to wonder, Utah, what are you doing?. However, I do think that the play call was a somewhat great idea.

First, hindsight is 20/20. Had the play been properly executed, special teams coach Morgan Scalley would be considered a genius. He would be under great scrutiny if Boobie Hobbes had dropped the fake punt return or had Hackett not pulled off a one-hand grab on the fake punt. Instead of the results, let’s focus on what coach Scalley knew when he called the play:

  1. It was believable. ASU’s coverage team likely knew that Covey was a true freshman, with dangerous return potential and likely to make an over-eager freshman mistake such as returning a kick from deep in his own end zone. Such a mistake was even more likely from Covey after watching a kick return for TD by ASU’s Tim White. ASU’s kick coverage team, who almost always saw the ball kicked out of the end zone, was likely licking their chops (causing them to lose lane containment) at a chance to hit the 160lb Covey as he foolishly took the ball from 9-yards deep in the end zone.
  1. The personnel fit. Covey is a former QB from Timpview High School where he led the T-birds to back to back state champs and completed 72% of his passes for 2,600 yards his senior year. It’s safe for Scalley to assume that he could be counted on for a pass across the end zone. Covey has also proven clutch under pressure and when executing other trick plays. Bubba Poole is a senior and no stranger at catching/carrying the ball. As Whit said in his presser Monday: “it worked in practice.”
  1. Risk was limited (albeit what happened was unusually bad). It’s not unreasonable to think that if ASU sniffs out the play, Covey throws to Poole who simply takes a knee and the end result is the same as if Covey took the knee. It’s hard to predict that your star kick-returner who was a very successful high school quarterback would throw the ball forward and short causing a safety and narrowly avoiding an ASU touchdown.
  1. The timing was right. This is the most debatable of the three points. Utah had just lost the lead for the first time in the game. ASU stole the momentum through special teams. A big play here would bring the momentum back to Utah and fire up the crowd.

The one element that the coaching staff may have overlooked was the weather. The throw was not only way off target but also appeared wobbly. Perhaps Covey had problems gripping it? Wilson, however, didn’t seem bothered by the rain when he threw for nearly 300 yards.

Finally, the trickery appeared to have worked on the ASU kick team. It’s tough to see the whole field, but from this screenshot 6 ASU defenders are out of position.


That means, at most, only 4 non-kicker defenders were in position to stop Poole, who appeared to have blockers ready. This is another example of the Utah coaches putting players in a situation to make big plays. Props to the Utah coaches for this call. Had Covey made the throw, “stupid kick return” would have read “brilliant trick play.” But given the results, ESPN had it right, this was not ideal.

NOTE: This is not a knock on Covey. I’m a huge fan of the guy. At least he caught the ball. Am I right BYU fans?

About the author

Steve Glauser

Born and raised in SLC and I’ve been attending Ute football and basketball games since I had my umbilical snipped. Lived a couple years in Los Angeles and a few in Washington DC where I did the whole law school thing and embarrassingly tried to be a Redskins fan. I graduated from the U and my wife graduated from the Y but we make it work.