Cal-ASU Preview: Special Teams

BERKELEY -- Special teams made all the difference last time Cal faced Arizona State, and with the Sun Devils armed with Tim White and Zane Gonzalez, it will play big again on Saturday.

BERKELEY -- Before James Langford booted a game-winning 34-yard field goal in double overtime against Colorado in 2015 to cap off a 59-56 win, all Matt Anderson wanted to do was to cut that iconic figure of a player running onto the field, fingers wrapped around the face mask of his helmet, as he held it aloft.

"The only thing crossing my mind, watching his kick, was 'Please go in, so that I can run on the field, holding my helmet up in the air,'" Anderson said. "I told him that about midway through the fourth quarter. I told him, 'Please just hit a game-winner, because I really want to run on the field holding my helmet in the air.'"

That was almost exactly two years ago, on Sept. 27, 2014. One year ago, on Nov. 29 when the Bears completed a 21-point comeback to down Saturday's opponent, Arizona State, it was Anderson's turn. With four seconds left, Anderson capped off a miracle drive led by Jared Goff with a 26-yarder, playing through an icing to boot the try with four seconds left.

http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1709339-scouting-the-oppon... "Going back to the sideline after the whistle blew, I don't remember anything, except, when I hit the ball, I high-fived Cole [Leininger], and I looked back up to make sure there were zero seconds on the clock," Anderson said. "At that point, I had Malik [McMorris] and Vinny [Johnson] on me, so I had 600 pounds of man.

"I looked up, and I saw it was going straight, and I high-fived Cole, but then, I wanted to look up to make sure there were zero seconds on the clock. It was kind of funny, because when I go out to kick a field goal in games, I kind of just black out. I don't really know what's going on. After the game, I told Cole, 'I'm bummed. I forgot to high five you.' He's like, 'No, you definitely high-fived me.' Then, there happens to be a picture of me mid-high-five with him. So, I was like, 'Oh, I guess I did high five you.'"

Counting that kick, Anderson has made his last 17 field goal tries, and on Saturday, he and the Cal special teams will face off with one of the best kickers in the nation in the Sun Devils' Zane Gonzalez.

With 81 career field goals, Gonzalez is in fifth place on the NCAA's all-time list, only four shy of the Pac-12 record-holder Kai Forbath (UCLA 2007-10), and seven short of the NCAA record, held by Florida State's Dustin Hopkins.

"A lot of the stuff he's done, has gone unnoticed," Anderson said. "I was told a couple days ago that he's almost breaking the record for most field goals in a career, and I don't know what the record is. I had no idea anyone was close to that, so I think a lot of the stuff he's done has gone unnoticed. It's kind of crazy. Last year, I think he had [five] field goals against us. I don't really think too much about the other guy until it's game time, and you're watching him. I want to have the better game of the two kickers. I flash back to San Diego State, a couple weeks ago. John Baron, I think it was a 40-yarder. I was like, 'Darn, he had a 40-yarder. I need to hit a field goal longer than that. Then, somebody says, 'You just need to hit a 45-yarder,' and a quarter later, I piped it down the middle."

Gonzalez booted his first kickoff against the Roadrunners five yards into the end zone -- a 70-yard bomb -- and is averaging 63.8 yards per kickoff, with 23 touchbacks in three games, although the Sun Devils are 69th in the nation in kickoff coverage (allowing 20.67 yards per return). Gonzalez has hit eight of nine field goal attempts this season, including two 54-yarders last week against Texas-San Antonio.

http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1709230-second-verse-same-... "He's got a leg," Anderson said. "He's probably one of the best kickoff guys in the Pac-12. Obviously, he's one of the best kickers in the country. They're going to do some great stuff on special teams, with Gonzalez kicking, and then Matt Haack punting. He's a good punter. It'll be a fun game."

Last week, the Bears' kickoff man, Noah Beito, averaged 61 yards on his nine kickoffs, with one touchback, and the week before, Beito averaged 64.0 yards per kickoff on his seven tries. Both nights, Beito got help on the cover team from speedy Khalfani Muhammad, who has added five tackles on kickoff cover, to go along with his 128 rushing yards on 22 carries, and 357 kickoff return yards on 13 take backs. Tre Watson has also been a workhorse, playing both kickoff cover and punt cover.

"Noah's helped us, and the guys who've run and recovered," said special teams coordinator Mark Tommerdahl. "Khalfani's been unbelievable, the way he runs. You look at what he's doing, and the yards he's putting up, it's impressive. He's a tough dude."

Despite Beito and Muhammad's performances, the Bears are 103rd in the nation in kickoff return defense (23.32 yards per return), and they will face a rarity in the college ranks on Saturday in Tim White, who started his career as purely a return specialist, and has only recently become one of Manny Wilkins's favorite targets in the receiving game.

White ranks 33rd in the nation in kickoff returns, averaging 24.8 yards, and in the punt return game, he's 20th, averaging 12.2 yards. He's averaging 26.6 yards per kickoff return in his career, and 9.8 yards per punt return, with a long of 73 this year, though he has yet to take a punt to the house.

"They're almost like their own separate art forms," Tommerdahl said of kick and punt returns. "I think that speaks a lot to the kid."

http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1709019-practice-in-search... White was limited to the second half of last week's game because of injury, pressed into service because of two muffed punts, but he'll be at full strength on Saturday.

"He's an impressive guy," Tommerdahl said. "He's a tough guy. He doesn't fair catch, so we've got a lot of respect for him. He just isn't going to fair catch. He's not. You see it all on film, there are teams that run by him, there are teams that have throttled down in front of him, and if you do that, he's gone."

Getting flat-footed against White by slowing down won't be a recipe for success.

"We've tried to educate our team, that this isn't a guy who's going to put his hand in the air," Tommerdahl said. "I'm supposed to say we'v got a lot of respect for him, but all you've got to do is watch him on film."

Cal punter Dylan Klumph has rebounded from his sub-par day against Hawaii (though two of his four punts landed inside the 20) to post averages of 49.25 against San Diego State and 40.17 against Texas. His season average of 43.75 yards per boot rank 26th in the nation, and he's popped four punts of over 50 yards, with five landing inside the 20.

While he may not make an appearance on Saturday, freshman Demetris Robertson has been a regular on the kickoff return unit late in practices, and took back a long run on Wednesday. He could be unwrapped before the season is out, but there is a lot of learning that has to go on before that happens.

"It's really a comfort thing," Tommerdahl said. "You see him grow, as much as we do, every practice. It will come. He'll play. His biggest comfort level has to come with just catching the ball. He has to get more comfortable with that, because once it's in his hands, he can just go. You see almost daily improvement."


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