BERKELEY-There were a lot of failures that led to the Cal football team's loss to Nevada last Friday. Both the offense and defense took turns dropping the baton; that's been talked about ad nauseam. But one unit that was firing on all cylinders was special teams.
In the return game, senior Jeremy Ross took back four kickoffs for a total of 81 yards, spelling the knicked-up Keenan Allen. Special teams coordinator Jeff Genyk will find out tomorrow if Allen will be ready to return to that task during practice tomorrow, though Allen did take reps during the special teams period, along with Isi Sofele, Shane Vereen, Coleman Edmond, Kaelin Clay, Tevin Carter, Ross and Terrance Montgomery.
"Well, I'm not sure," Genyk said. "It depends on his progress. We work on kickoff return tomorrow, so we'll see at that point."
The Italian Stallion Giorgio Tavecchio showed marked improvements for the third week in a row, crushing five kickoffs an average of 67.6 yards with one touchback. For the rest of the statistical analysis, well, it's best to turn to the Bears' resident human calculator: Genyk.
"Giorgio is executing at a very high level," Genyk said. "The kicks that went into the south end zone in Reno were into about a 15-mph wind. He hit one to the goal line, one to the minus-three and one to the 10. Those were exceptional kicks. His hangtime has been really at or above NFL-level. His hangtimes are 4.1, 4.2 seconds."
While altitude likely played at least some not inconsiderable role in Tavecchio's hangtime and distance, his average distance was on par with his virtuoso performance against Colorado. Two weeks ago, Tavecchio booted eight kickoffs an average of 64.8 yards, making the distance added due to altitude just under two additional yards. What really struck Genyk-apart from his kicker's performance-was the coverage teams.
"(Tavecchio) really allows our coverage team-we've had nine tackles inside the 20-yard line, which, I believe, leads the nation-he's performing at a very high level," Genyk said. "He's not getting caught up in the results. He's just all about the execution."
Those coverage teams-both on kickoffs and punts-will have their hands full this weekend when Cal (2-1) travels to face No. 14 Arizona (3-0), which features the reigning Pac-10 Special Teams Player of the Week in Travis Cobb.
Last week in the Wildcats' upset win over then-No. 9 Iowa, Cobb turned in his second career kickoff for a touchdown-his first at Arizona and the first Wildcats TD return since 1998-tying him for the longest kickoff return in school history and surpassing his own career-high of 95 yards set last year against Washington State.
"Travis Cobb is an exceptional player," Genyk said. "I've always really respected Iowa's special team unit and their coaching, and for him to take it 100 yards back against Iowa was just very impressive to me. Some of our players played with him at Blinn College, and they say that he's extremely fast and very decisive. We've really got to do a great job of covering. And then, also, Bug Wright is a very solid returner who can make people miss in the punt game."
During the early part of Tuesday's practice, Genyk and the equally-energetic defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi drilled the PAT and field goal teams in preparing for some possible trickeration on Saturday.
"Obviously, I want to prepare at a high level for any sort of gimmick plays and trick plays, with what transpired in the Super Bowl-the onside kick-and then last week, with Michigan State," Genyk said, referring to the overtime fake field goal touchdown pass from Aaron Bates to Charlie Gantt that lifted the Spartans over Notre Dame. "It raises a lot of awareness for all of us in coaching. We just want to make sure that we're crossing our T's and dotting our I's in regards to getting assignments down on the PAT and field goal block, punt return and kickoff return."
Genyk also worked at fine-tuning some issues that go under the radar for most casual observers.
"We're working on protection issues. We had some seepage there in one of our gaps, and we're working on that," he said. "But, the operation time is really key. We're getting the ball out between 1.25 and 1.29 seconds, which makes it very hard to block. And then, Giorgio's trajectory has always been above average. The block that Arizona got against Iowa, it was probably at about nine feet. Giorgio's trajectory at the line of scrimmage is about 12 feet. He does a great job of that."
Genyk went on to discuss some of the intricacies of the rest of the Wildcats' special teams play, focusing on kicker Alex Zendejas and punter Keenyn Crier.
"Their kickoff coverage unit is very good. It's very well-coached," Genyk said. "I remember watching it back in the spring, and we've really got to maintain blocks. Their kicker does a nice job of putting it in a position where you can return it, but he also has good hangtime.
"From a punt return standpoint, they've got a kind of punt where you don't really know where the ball's going to go. They'll punt it right, middle or left. We're still trying to figure that out."