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Cal Football Wednesday 10/4 Notebook - Specialists Come Through in Win

October 4, 2023
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As the offense and defense work through the kinks and try to resolve the various issues on both sides of the ball, the spotlight on Cal’s special teams has grown brighter with each week.

The kicking unit was pivotal in a negative way in the Week 2 loss to Auburn, as Cal missed three field goal attempts in a game the Bears could have won but fell short 14-10. On the other hand, the special teams came up big in last week’s 24-21 victory against Arizona State when freshman Mateen Bhagani made his only field goal attempt and converted all three PATs.

More significantly in that game was the punting of transfer Lachlan Wilson, who repeatedly bailed out Cal’s sputtering offense and pinned Arizona State deep in its own territory. Wilson averaged a career-high 49.7 yards on his seven punts, was named the game’s MVP by head coach Justin Wilcox, then earned Pac-12 Special Teams Player of the Week honors for his outstanding effort.

Before his big day, Wilson had operated mainly in the background like most special teams players do. But the results were far from surprising from the Aussie, who had built himself a strong resume during his time at Tulsa.

Wilson, who grew up playing the gritty and physical Australian Rules football, carried averages of 42.9 yards for Tulson in 2020 and 45.7 yards in 2021 before bringing his talents to Northern California and the Berkeley campus.

He’s currently second in the Pac-12 and 19th in the nation with a 44.9-yard average this season.

“In every way, take the same approach and just try to do my job to the best of my abilities,” the mild-mannered Wilson said following the win over the Sun Devils. “It was good to get the results and help the team.”

Wilson’s punting proved to be pivotal and critical against Arizona State because Cal’s offense continues to be plagued by inconsistency. There’s also been season-long questions at quarterback, questions that remain unanswered heading into this week’s showdown with No. 15 Oregon State at Memorial Stadium.

Sam Jackson V and Ben Finley split the quarterback duties through the first four weeks before Jackson went the distance against Arizona State while Finley was nursing an unspecified injury. Both are healthy and back at practice this week, and there’s also the possibility that Fernando Mendoza could be a part of the mix against the Beavers this week.

“I wouldn’t be shocked if Fernando played or Ben or Sam,” offensive coordinator Jake Spavital said Tuesday. “It’s kind of up in the air for all of them.”

If the season ended today, Wilson’s average would be the fifth-highest for a single season in Cal’s history. It would give him the top spot on the Bears’ all-time career list.

For now, however, the 24-year-old punter is keeping his attention on this season and continuing what has already been a special season for Wilson.

Wilson is the first Cal player to be named Pac-12 Special Teams Player of the week since kicker Greg Thomas earned the honor in 2019.

“You just have to focus and do the same thing I always do,” Wilson said of his approach. “You *really don’t want to think about too much, just go out with my same process.”

Bhagani, a freshman from San Diego, quietly went about his job after being promoted to starting kicker after Michael Luckhurst struggled to find any sort of rhythm and consistency in the first four games. Although not all of the failure was solely his fault, Luckhurst missed six of his nine field goal attempts before Bhaghani took over.

“It felt pretty good,” Bhaghani said. “Overall the whole day I could have done better but it’s definitely good to go 4-for-4.”

Predictably, Bhaghani got a boost of self-confidence on the day the coaching staff informed him of the change.

“It honestly felt super trusting,” Bhaghani said. “I felt supported so that’s all I really needed.”

Related:

Cal Football Tuesday 10/3 Notebook

 
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