Fresno State Football

Fresno State football: Utah special teams have Bulldogs' attention

Even before Fresno State kicker Colin McGuire left the team because of personal reasons at the start of this week, the Bulldogs understood the difficult task ahead in facing Utah's special-team units.

The Utes returned a punt and a kickoff for touchdowns during their season-opening 56-14 victory against Football Championship Subdivision program Idaho State.

Senior Kaelin Clay ran back a punt 46 yards, then followed with a 100-yard kick return to become the first Pac-12 player to score on both a punt and kick return in the same game since Cal's Deltha O'Neal in 1999.

Clay was one of four players throughout the Football Bowl Subdivision to return a kickoff for 100 yards on opening weekend.

"He's a good athlete and they're really well-coached at special teams there," Bulldogs special-teams coordinator Pete Germano said. "We've got our hands full. We need to be good with our directional kicking, need to put enough hang time in our kicks. We don't want them making plays on special teams."

Fresno State certainly does not want a repeat of last year when the Bulldogs finished 102nd in the nation after allowing an average of 23.38 yards per return and had two kickoffs ran back for touchdowns.

Germano took measures in the offseason and had punter Garrett Swanson compete with McGuire for kickoff duties.

Though Swanson excelled at kickoffs as a true freshman in 2012 and helped limit opponents to an average of 19.5 yards per return, Germano wanted to reduce the wear and tear on Swanson's leg last year since he already was handling punts for the first time. So, McGuire took care of kickoffs last season. And though he did a solid job for most of the year, McGuire fatigued down the stretch.

After McGuire missed the first two weeks of this year's fall camp because of family issues in Texas, Germano decided to give Swanson a chance to win the kickoff duties.

"These were the cards we were dealt this year and so we said, "Let's see what happens if we put Garrett back in the mix,' " Germano said. "He's shown he can handle both. I like the hang time I'm seeing from him (and) his directional kicking."

In one of the few bright spots for Fresno State against USC last week, Swanson helped the Bulldogs hold the Trojans to an average of 14.3 yards on three kick returns, with a long of 19.

McGuire's departure this week then cemented Swanson's role on kickoffs.

"You give yourself a chance if we continue to cover kicks," coach Tim DeRuyter said. "Garrett is a big part of that. He did a nice job with hang time and placement."

The Bulldogs refused to take into consideration the level of opponent Utah faced last week, instead opening Monday's practice by having their defenders work on closing in on returners.

"You've got to do a great job covering the entire field and compressing on the returner," DeRuyter said. "If he's allowed to have space between him and the coverage, he can make guys miss."