AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezArizona State running back Marion Grice

Special teams showing up big for No. 5 Stanford

Stanford special teams coach Pete Alamar approached star linebacker Shayne Skov before a recent game to deliver some upsetting news.

With Skov playing so many snaps on defense, coaches needed to find a way to give him more rest. So they decided to slice Skov’s time on special teams in half.

“I said, ‘Hey, I’ve got to take you off one team. I’m going to take you off punt and leave you on kickoff coverage,’” Alamar said. “I thought he was going to cry.”

Skov’s reaction epitomized the way Stanford players treat special teams — as a blessing, not a burden.

From projected All-Americans and NFL draft picks to backups and fringe freshmen, Stanford’s special teams unit is an all-encompassing club. The mix of talent also is a big reason the fifth-ranked Cardinal (5-0, 3-0 Pac-12) are still undefeated entering Saturday’s game at Utah (3-2, 0-2).

Last week, Washington outgained Stanford 489 to 284 yards. The Huskies had 30 first downs, while the Cardinal finished with 14. And yet Stanford still won 31-28.

The difference? Special teams.

Ty Montgomery racked up 204 yards returning, including going 99 yards untouched for a TD on the opening kickoff. He also returned another 72 yards late in the third quarter to set up the winning score.

“We know how important all three phases are. When we say all three phases, we mean all three of them,” said Montgomery, who is averaging 33.5 yards per kickoff return, third-best in the nation.

The unit’s success has been on both sides of the return game. Stanford is allowing just four yards per punt return, tied with Oregon for second-best in the conference and 24th in the nation. And the Cardinal are giving up 18.5 yards per kickoff, ranking second in the Pac-12 and 20th in the nation.

Jordan Williamson is 9 for 11 on field goals.

NEXT GAME

Stanford vs. Utah

WHEN: Saturday, 3 p.m.

WHERE: Rice-Eccles Stadium, Salt Lake City

TV: Pac-12 Networks

RADIO: KTCT (1050 AM)

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