California Position Previews — Special Teams

Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sport

Each week, we take a look at the various fronts of Washington's upcoming opponent. Today, we examine the special teams of the California Golden Bears.

Players to watch
PK and KOS Vincenzo D'Amato, P Cole Leininger, PR Bryce Treggs, KR Khalfani Muhammad

Notable injuries/absences
None

Analysis
California boasts a much improved kicker in Vincenzo D'Amato, who has made 13 of 15 attempts (87 percent) this year after making just 70 and 58 percent in 2012 and 2009. His long of 51 yards this year suggests that he has power to go along with his accuracy, and while California hasn't been particularly adept at scoring touchdowns, D'Amato's ability to reliably get three points on the board means that he may very well single-handedly keep the Golden Bears in Saturday's contest, if the offense can get him into range.

D'Amato has shown an ability to get the ball deep into the end zone, having sent 13 of 35 attempts for touchbacks, but he has also kicked a potentially problematic five out of bounds - there are many things that Cal can't afford to do if they hope to stay in this game, and gifting the Huskies field position is foremost on that list. California covers kickoffs relatively well, with an average opponent return of 20.4 yards ranking them sixth in the conference.

Punter Cole Leininger has booted his punts an average of 42.6 yards, which ties him for second in the conference with Washington's Travis Coons. His long of 70 is impressive, but it's possible that he is outkicking his coverage: California ranks dead last in opponent punt returns, giving up an average 15.2 yards per return, including two scores to Oregon.

Bryce Treggs hasn't had much to show as a punt returner in 2013: He's gained just 26 yards on 10 attempts with a long of 13. Washington's special teams have been a sore spot in general this year, but even they shouldn't have trouble with California.

Where Cal can hurt Washington, though, is on special teams: Khalfani Muhammad has shown flashes of greatness this year in averaging a Pac-12-second-best 24.4 yards per return, second only to Stanford's Ty Montgomery. (Washington fans might recall that name.) His long of 52 yards speaks to his escapability, and this phase of the game could finally provide the spark that breathes life into Cal against an FBS opponent. With Muhammad taking over as the team's primary running back in the last two games, though, it remains to be seen if he will continue to be Cal's primary kick returner.

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As always, thanks to College Football StatisticsESPN and USA Today's College Football Injury Report for the relevant data that went into this article. You can follow me on Twitter by clicking below.

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