SALT LAKE CITY — Utah long snapper Alex Whittingham, the seed of the head coach who shares the same name, struggled for a second straight game against Stanford on Saturday, misfiring on a punt snap in Utah’s own territory on the opening drive of the second half.
In what punctuated a three-and-out situation for Utah, Whittingham delivered a low flying snap to the feet of punter Mitch Wishnowsky, who, due to the unusual flight path, needed an extra beat to gather the ball as it skipped off his person and danced across the field. By the time he finally controlled the ball at his own 15-yard line, it was too late, as Wishnowsky was seized by a host of white jerseys before a punt could be attempted.
The result was excellent starting field position for Stanford on the ensuing possession, which ended with a successful field goal try to extend its lead to 16-10.
For a team that prides itself on mistake-free special teams play, that occurrence was unsavory by itself, and especially so when you consider that it continued a pattern of errant long snaps for the Utes this season. Two weeks prior, Whittingham struggled with his flights at Arizona, with one such snap also resulting in a fumble.
“Can’t snap the ball to the punter or the holder all of a sudden,” Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said of the recent micro-trend during Saturday’s postgame press conference. “Went through spring, all of fall camp, no issues whatsoever, then all of a sudden that’s a big issue.”
The younger Whittingham, a fifth-year senior, took over long snapping duties during the summer in lieu of then-injured tight end Harrison Handley, who initially figured to be the leading candidate for the role. While Handley ultimately returned for the season-opener in addition to playing in every game for the Utes this season, he’d done so exclusively at tight end until last week, when he played the first half as the team’s long-snapper with little success, making way for Whittingham to return in the second half.
Now, in the wake of the recent shortcomings, the team announced Monday that the position will be a timeshare, with Handley taking over long-snapping duties (presumably punt snaps) while Whittingham continues handling short-snapping situations (field goals and PATs).
“Harry had a great spring, was having a great fall until he got hurt,” the elder Whittingham said during his Monday press conference. “Alex, while Harry was down during fall camp, had really done a nice job.
“It’s difficult to be the snapper and play a position (referring to Handley’s tight end designation), particularly an offensive position because you’re out there a lot of the time on third down right before you punt — you don’t get a chance to take any warmup snaps and so you’ve got to go in cold," he added. "Therefore we stayed with Alex early in the year, and he was doing a good job and then all of a sudden in the Arizona game we had a couple of bad snaps. … Bottom-line, there’s too much drama going on right now with the snaps. We’ve got to get it fixed — we will.”