There's only one word to describe Colorado's special teams units, and if you know anything about this team, you've probably already guessed what it is: "youth." Like its offensive and defensive squads, this phase of the Buffaloes game features some talented players who simply don't yet appear to be ready to compete at a sufficient level in the Pac-12.
Place Kicking: Second-year starter Will Oliver handles place kicking duties for the Buffs, and though he has some of the best kicking abilities of any player in the Pac-12 -- his longest kickoff so far in 2012 went 74 yards, and he hit a 58-yard field goal in spring practices -- he hasn't been given much of a chance to showcase his abilities due to the offense's inability to move the ball sufficiently well to consistently put him in opportunities to show off his leg. For what it's worth, he's 5-6 this year on field goals with a long of 37 yards, and has made each of his 23 PAT attempts.
Kickoffs: Colorado relies on the unusual kickoff-by-committe approach, with Justin Castor, Zach Grossnickle and Oliver all getting their respective chances this year. Castor has gotten the lion's share of attempts (19 of 37 total), and averages nearly 64 yards per kick. Just six of his attempts have gone for touchbacks, though, which is largely a function of the lack of fear that opponents have for Colorado's kickoff team: On average, the squad gives up 26.4 yards per return, which ranks 11th in the conference and 121st out of 124 FBS teams.
Punts: Sophomore Darragh O'Neill is one of the conference's stronger punters, ranking second in the Pac-12 by booting the ball an average of 43.8 yards per attempt. He also sees quite a bit more action than any other punter in the conference; his 66 punts is 12 more than his closest competitor, UCLA's Jeff Locke. Like the kicking team, though, Colorado's punt coverage team leaves much to be desired, giving up an average of 9.9 yards per return.
Kickoff Returns: In yet another illustration of this team's youth, Colorado starts two true freshman kick returners, running back Donta Abron and safety Marques Mosley. Both are serviceable, averaging 19.0 and 20.7 yards per return, respectively, but Abron appears to be the more legitimate home run threat, having returned his longest kick against USC for 48 yards.
Punt Returns: Colorado's primary punt returner is true freshman Kenneth Crawley, who averages 7.0 yards per return. The Buffs have the third-lowest number of returns in the conference (14), so it's tough to extrapolate too much meaning from the available data. However, considering that they have a first-year player catching punts, don't be surprised to see Travis Coons lean again on his end-over-end rugby-style kicks that he utilized against Utah in hopes of forcing the youngster to muff one or two returns throughout the game. In all likelihood, considering the high level that its defense has played at for the last month, Washington will be willing to sacrifice field position in exchange for the possibility of creating some special teams turnovers.
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