BERKELEY, CA - SEPTEMBER 08: Wide receiver Keenan Allen #21 of the California Golden Bears fields a punt in front of defensive back Tyree Mills #6 of the Southern Utah Thunderbirds during the fourth quarter at Memorial Coliseum on September 8, 2012 i - Jason O. Watson
Each week, we take a look at the various fronts of Washington's upcoming opponent. Today, we look at the special teams of the California Golden Bears.
Well, Cal's chances of creating some momentum through big plays on special teams just took a big hit:
Still, we soldier on. But it's hard to avoid thinking that this game just took a decisive turn in Washington's favor.
Place Kicking: Cal benefits from the services of a reliable kicker in fifth-year senior Vincenzo D'Amato, who has hit 13 of 18 field goal attempts this year. He enters the Washington game on a perfect 9 for 9 streak that includes a career-long 52 yard boot against Washington State. D'Amato is 25 of 28 on PATs in 2012, though two of those "misses" came from blocks by the UCLA Bruins.
Kickoffs: D'Amato is very skilled at placing his kickoffs between the end zone and the 5-yard line, forcing opposing kick return squads to earn their way to the 25-yard line instead of giving them a free trip there. His average landing spot on kickoffs is between the 2 and 3 yards lines, meaning that Bears opponents take touchbacks on just 35 percent of kickoffs, the ninth-lowest number in the conference. California's kickoff team wasn't doing poorly this year until last week, when Utah torched the squad for two(!) touchdown returns on just four kick returns. The performance dropped Cal like a stone in the conference pecking order for opponent average returns, and in giving up 27.4 yards per kickoff, Cal now ranks ahead of only - who else? - Colorado.
Punts: The Bears have turned to true freshman Cole Leininger for punting duties in 2012, whose average of 41.3 yards per punt ranks ninth in the conference. Though Leininger does a good job of allowing his gunners to get into position to force opponents to make fair catches (22 of Cal's 44 punts have ended in no return), the coverage team hasn't proven to be the best at stopping big plays from developing, giving up an average 9.9 yards per return.
Kickoff Returns: The dynamic Brendan Bigelow is the Bears' primary return man, and for good reason: his total of 400 yards on returns this year (coming from 17 attempts for a 23.5 yard-average) ranks third in the conference, behind only Washington State's Teondray Caldwell and USC's Marqise Lee. Beside Bigelow is Mike Manuel, a senior whose pace of 19.2 yards per return isn't terribly far off from his teammate's.
Punt Returns: Honestly, who knows what's going to happen here? The loss of Keenan Allen, pictured above returning a punt for a touchdown against Southern Utah, doesn't just deprive the Bears of their top receiver, it also denies them their most potent home-run threat on punt returns. Coming into Friday's game, no other bear had returned a punt since Cal played Texas in the 2011 Holiday Bowl, and while Bryce Treggs is listed on the depth chart as Allen's ostensible backup, it wouldn't surprise me if Tedford gives Bigelow a bite or two at the apple considering that Treggs is listed as questionable for Friday's game due to an ankle injury he suffered last week.