When Cal faces Oregon at 4 p.m. on Saturday in Berkeley, all eyes will be on the Bears' special teams, particularly the place-kicking unit.
The Bears' special teams' deficiencies cost the Bears (0-3) the past two games, and the place-kicking woes were especially galling against Stanford. Cal lost by one point to the Cardinal in a game in which the Bears had a 32-yard field goal blocked and a potential, game-tying extra point blocked in the final minute.
"I think all of us would agree that an extra point should be a high-percentage play for the kicking team," Cal coach Justin Wilcox said Tuesday. "But we didn't get it done and we have to own that as coaches and players."
Just in case you forgot, here is that blocked extra point:
So what's Wilcox going to do about it?
Kicker Dario Longhetto has a rather low trajectory on his kicks, which was one of the reasons his two kicks were blocked. Wilcox noted that the lauch point could be changed, so that the holder could put the ball down eight yards behind the line of scrimmage rather than the customary seven, providing a little more room to get the ball off. That could lead to other problems in terms of timing, however.
Cal could also change kickers, with walk-on kickers Nick Lopez and Ronan Donnelly also on the Bears' roster.
However, Longhetto made a 52-yard field goal against Oregon State, so it's unlikely Cal will switch kickers. So the Bears coaches have to make adjustments elswhere, starting with Longhetto figuring out how to get his kicks up quickly as well as analyses of what else went wrong.
"Is it how we're teaching it?" Wilcox asked rhetorically. "Is it the people we're having do that technique? Is it repetitions in practice? Is it drill work? So we go over that with a fine-tooth comb.
"Our job is to identify it, remedy it, and if the guys are capable of doing it, we've got to help them get that done. If they're not [capable], we've got to find some people more capable in that situation. And that's ultimately our job."
So someone watching on television might not detect subtle adjustments Cal makes to personnel or blocking schemes or blocking assignments on place kicks.
Wilcox talks about trick plays on special teams and his decision not to go for two points against Stanford:
Wilcox reiterated on Tuesday what he said on Friday regarding why he chose to go for one point to tie the game rather than two points to grab the lead.
He noted that Cal does have some trick plays in its place-kicking arsenal, but did not think the end of the game was the appropriate time. Wilcox thought the issues that had caused the blocked field goal in the first half had been rectified at halftime and decided an extra point to tie the Stanford game was preferable to a two-point try, which statistically is successful less than half the time.
"As we approached that end of the game there, I did think about potentially going for two," Wilcox said Tuesday, "but going back to how the offense was moving the ball, and really I thought the defense, I thought, had been battling pretty dang well, especially when they had some field to defend, we felt good about our chances in overtime. We felt that was a better chance to win the game than the two-point play.
"And obviously I was wrong, and that's my decision."
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