Forza Italia! Cal's Special Teams In 2011

Avinash: Giorgio was automatico. Cal finished in the top 10 in kicking field goals for the first time, when was the last time? If only his protection could ensure he nailed a couple extra points too. However, the kicking was a struggle. Tavecchio struggled to put the football in the end zone for touchbacks (only three all season outside his trip to Colorado). What were your thoughts on Giorgio's performance?

Bryan Anger did his thing. I'd say he was more consistent this year though; there were some booming kicks and shanks last year, but the variance appeared to decrease this season. Do you believer Anger improved, and how much shall we miss him?

Probably the most disappointing aspect of this season was our lack of kick/punt return ability. The Cal offense always seemed to have much worse field position than the opposition, which didn't at all help us out in the first two months of the season. Who do you think will emerge as our returners next season?

Kodiak: It's hard for me to look at our special team's play without a sense of resignation. For some reason, it always feels like we're on the losing end of the field position battle. With Bryan Anger's leg, KA's moves, and Bigelow's speed, you'd think that we could generate some positive plays. Instead, it seems like we have at least one breakdown in this phase per game, and it's a pleasant surprise whenever we see average play.

I'm proud of Giorgio for working hard and turning himself into a reliable kicker. He certainly had his share of doubters, so it's nice to see pull through. I'm not certain if the kickoff issues were a function of insufficient leg strength, or if he was being coached to target his kicks to a certain spot.

What boggles my mind is the issues we had with protection. I think it's reasonable to expect us to be able to kick an extra point. For there to be so many repeated systemic failures points to a schematic and coaching issue. For us to be so concerned with protection break-downs that we marginalized Anger's leg by going to a rugby-style just seems like we created an additional issue instead of solving the original problem.

If I was going to hurt myself by giving the extreme benefit of the doubt, perhaps Coach Tedford didn't allocate a lot of time to special teams because he had to break in a new QB with a re-worked offense. If the coaches were still using back-up players instead of scout teamers to practice against, that could also cut into special teams reps. Unfortunately, if you go simply by results, I don't think that special teams could be considered a strength.

Looking ahead, I would highly suspect that we'll have a new position coach. KA will be the primary punt returner, and we'll have Bigelow and another young DB/RB as our kick returners. What will be interesting is that we'll have both a new punter and a new kicker. In most years, that's a recipe for winces and face-palms.

HydroTech: I was pleasantly surprised by Tavecchio's field goal kicking this year. He was definitely more consistent. But what did bother me were some of the inconsistencies elsewhere on special teams. For instance, the PAT blocking was not good. This is the first team I've ever seen have like 5+ PATs get blocked. And our punting was a little hit and miss. It's not that we don't have a great punter. Anger is a good punter. But those rugby style kicks didn't seem to be his forte. And... we kept doing them so much. It was a little frustrating to watch. The rationale behind using those rugby style punts is that it's harder to block the punt, it gives more time for our coverage to get down the field, and the ball tends to bounce in a more consistent manner, but it just didn't seem to be Anger's thing. And thus, it just seemed like a waste of one of the best punters in college to keep forcing that square peg into a round hole.

Berkelium97: We've now finished year 2 of Genyk. What are people's thoughts on his tenure? Was he an upgrade over Alamar?

Atomsareenough: First of all, Tavecchio. I don't know what it was, but I have been confident about him since the very beginning of the season, and thankfully he hasn't disappointed. For some reason people seem to want to blame him for blocked field goals and extra points, but honestly that seems like an issue with the formation and execution along the line. One of the blocked kicks against Fresno State was probably kicked at too low an angle, but other than that, I fail to see how the rest of them could have been Giorgio's fault in any meaningful way. Anyway, he's come a long way in the past few years, and by all accounts he's a great kid, and I'm going to be a little sad to see him go. My one real criticism is that he didn't more consistently put his kickoffs into the endzone. I'd love to see the next Cal placekicker produce touchbacks almost every single time. I'll happily trade letting opponents start at the 20 consistently than try to pin them inside the 10 and risk letting them take it out to the 40 or something. Especially considering the coverage hasn't been all that great.

...which leads me to Genyk and special teams generally. In sum, I'd say we were pretty unremarkable. The kicking positions (Anger, Tavecchio) have been consistently good. I think Anger's rugby-punting early on in the season was because our blocking wasn't very good and it allowed Anger to get away from the pressure. Why wasn't the blocking good? That's seemingly on Genyk. Also, not being able to block for extra points and FGs is terrible and inexcusable. For reference, we only made 85% of our PATs (35/41) and I believe we had 5 of them blocked and one straight up missed, while our opponents made 100% of theirs. If we were blocking kicks and punts too, it might have been a little easier to swallow, but we weren't doing that either. Thankfully this improved by the end of the year, but it shouldn't have been a problem in the first place.

Coverages have been consistently mediocre. We're usually good at not allowing punt- or kick-return TDs, but we pretty commonly allow 20-40 yard returns. So, it's not backbreaking but it's not making things easier on our defense either. Meanwhile our returns have been pretty pedestrian as well. Gone are the days of a Desean Jackson-style shake-and-bake. Lately it seems we do a lot of fair catching, or if we do run it back, it's not for big yardage. It's a little telling that even with one of the best punters in the country in Brian Anger, who usually gives his coverage teams some pretty substantial hangtime to allow them to get down the field, we allowed 7.4 return yards per punt, whereas we only gained 5.3 yards per punt return ourselves in comparison.

Usually we don't make mistakes either; boneheaded plays like Marvin Jones' fair catch at the 3 are thankfully rare, and we don't usually turn it over, but we're not changing the game with our Special Teams play, for sure. I for one think Special Teams is actually an under-appreciated but important aspect of the game, and if we were not merely okay at it, but if it were a real strength of the team, I am certain it could really make a difference between winning and losing close games. I mentioned this recently in a comment thread, but I think our lack of execution in the Special Teams phase of the game was a prominent factor in losing the infamous 2004 game against USC, for example. Maybe Tedford would rather devote more practice time to the bread-and-butter plays on offense and defense, and goodness knows we could always improve our execution there, but I feel we've been neglecting special teams a little bit, and it's been to our detriment. Maybe you can say (to bring back an annoying turn of phrase) we're special teaming not to lose, rather than trying to turn it into a real strength.

So, overall, I'd say it's good that we're mostly minimizing mistakes. Anger and Tavecchio executing consistently is good. Coverage was mediocre, as was pressure on the opposing kickers. Blocking was terrible but improved by the end of the year. Returns were lacking. Not taking adequate advantage of our dynamic skilled players to really impact the game on special teams is disappointing. So, there you have it. Few truly gamechanging mistakes or positive plays either way really. Meh. I'd give Genyk a C.

OhioBear: I don't know what more to add here. Special teams was a mixed bag this season. Giorgio was a solid kicker for us, as I had a feeling he would be as an experienced senior. He had an untimely miss at Ucla, but you could say he more than made up for it with kicks like the 54-yarder at UO and the game-clincher at ASU.

I was frustrated by the blocked PATs. How in the name of Jim Breech could we let that happen so many times? I remember maybe one of those being a Giorgio kicking it too low issue, but the rest were on our blocking unit. Amazing that it happened so much on PATs but not on our (plentiful) FG attempts.

Punting - we will miss Bryan Anger. He is a tremendous talent, even better (IMO) than Nick Harris was. (And Nick is still kicking it around in the NFL.) I was not a fan of the rugby style punts, as I thought they were a waste of Anger's talent. Once a game to change things up maybe, but we did it more than I liked. But hey - I'm not a special teams coach.

And speaking of special teams coaches - I really don't know what to make of Genyk. As much as we crucified Alamar, our ST units haven't really improved, IMO. I'm as curious as anyone to see what happens with Genyk.

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