On Tech ending the kickoff return drought

Jamal Golden is on my list. As anyone who knows me can tell you, planning is not a great strength of mine. So it was with a modicum of enthusiasm that I actually had a story idea well in advance of the intended run date – how Georgia Tech hasn’t scored a touchdown off a kickoff return for a touchdown in 14 years.

It would be timely this week since the last touchdown was scored Halloween 1998 by Dez White at Maryland. I had a useful interview with Orwin Smith last week, who returned a kickoff down to the 1-yard line against Duke in 2009. He was saying how Wes Durham sometimes reminded him of the drought, and how he wanted to score on a return before his senior year was over, and how he was positive he actually scored against Duke, but it wasn’t reviewed.

A perfect confluence. Not exactly a story destined for the front page, but a fun story to write and hopefully read, I thought. So it was with a small amount of dread that I saw Golden tear down the west sideline Saturday, my story crashing and burning before my eyes. My luck seems to work that way sometimes. So, thanks to Golden, all I have is this blog post.

You may be interested to know, as I wrote in notes posted Tuesday night, that it was tied for the fourth-longest non-scoring kickoff-return streak in FBS. Remarkably, Nevada also scored on a kickoff return Halloween 1998 and hasn’t scored since. Rice stands alone. The Owls haven’t scored on a kickoff return since 1984. They’re followed by Memphis (1996) and Miami (Ohio, 1997).

I talked to White Tuesday. He had no idea of his unusual place in Tech history.

“That is very surprising,” he said. That’s a long time. You’re talking about a lot of kickoff returns in 14 years.”

White’s return was 100 yards, three yards longer than Golden’s. White said he remembers getting a big hole and then cutting across the field and then outrunning the Maryland kicker.

“I remember Ralph Friedgen being really happy he didn’t have to call a series,” he said.

White, if you’re wondering, is living in Gwinnett County. He’s a certified fitness trainer and is founder of The Body Firm Atlanta, which runs exercise boot camps in Gwinnett and Atlanta. He said he has a clientele of about 250 people, many of whom are surprised to learn that he played at Tech and in the NFL.

“I do try to kick their butt (in workouts), but don’t try to flaunt (my past),” he said.

So how do you explain the drought?

A good bit of it is having subpar kickoff return teams. Obviously, the more well-blocked returns you have, the greater your chances. Tech is ranked 48th this year in kickoff return average. Going back to 2000, the year-end rankings were, going backwards from 2011 – 108, 97, 64, 95 (Paul Johnson’s first year), 54, 74, 67, 33, 57, 76 (Chan Gailey’s first year), 21, 6.

(Information available here on the NCAA site. Very useful.)

But some of it just seems random. You’d think that having the No. 6 and No. 21 kickoff return teams in 2000 and 2001 (when Kelly Campbell returned kicks), you’d think one return would have broken.

As I was going through NCAA records, I’d guess 75 percent of the teams in FBS have returned a kickoff for a touchdown in the past three or four years, and obviously not all of them have had good kickoff return teams.

Once I got past seven or eight years in eliminating teams, Tech and the other four schools remained as the outliers. I guess the fact that the other four aren’t exactly football powerhouses says something – a cursory look indicates that Rice’s kickoff teams have just been bad – but at some point you’d think you’d score one just by random chance or by playing against an overmatched FCS team.

But, the possibly odder thing is something White clued me in to. He returned two kicks for scores, one in 1997 and the 1998 score. His 1997 touchdown broke another drought. Prior to that touchdown, Tech’s last kickoff return for a touchdown was scored in 1990, by Kevin Tisdel. So, starting with the 1991 season, Tech has scored three kickoffs for touchdowns. Central Florida has scored that many this month.

About to go down a rabbit hole…

UCF is coached, of course, by George O’Leary. The Black Knights’ national ranking is No. 13. Last year, they were No. 3 (one TD). In 2010, they were No. 1 (two). In 2009, they were No. 13 (one). Then, No. 7 (two), No. 21 (three), No. 76 (0), No. 95 (0), No. 54 (0).

If you’re wondering, Tim Salem coached tight ends and was special teams coordinator 2009-2011. He’s now at Illinois. He was replaced this year by Allen Mogridge for both positions.

It appears in 2007, when the kickoff line was moved back to the 30-yard line, UCF jumped from 76 to 21, O’Leary made a concerted effort to improve kickoff returns and coverage, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

The special teams coordinator/linebackers coach that year was Dave Huxtable, who coached at Tech from 1992 to 1997 and is now defensive coordinator at Pitt. In 2008, it was Brent Key, the former Tech guard who is now O’Leary’s assistant head coach and line coach.

A couple observations. During this run, special teams has been coordinated by a coach who was also a position coach. Second, that job has been held by four different coaches. The constant, obviously, is O’Leary. Whatever he’s doing, it’s working.

So what does this say about Tech special-teams coordinator David Walkosky? First, he gets credit for coaching the unit that broke the streak. Golden said Saturday that he was supposed to go right but saw that BYU defenders were closing hard on his left. Golden said Walkosky coaches him and Smith to trust the return play, but also gives them the freedom to break the play if they see an opening.

Putting Golden at returner, obviously, was also the right call by Walkosky.

The kickoff cover team has obviously had issues and the kickers are clearly having some problems, both on kickoffs and field goals. The punt team, the horrendous block aside, is an improving unit. Both return teams are doing better. If the return team holds at No. 48, it’ll be an improvement of 60 spots from last year and the second best finish since O’Leary left.

Congratulations if you made it this far. I thought this post was going to be about half as long as it’s turned out to be.

Thanks for reading.

In case you missed it…

Johnson says it’s not time to panic

Notes: B-backs struggling to produce

Notes: Johnson mum on starting quarterback

Thanks for reading.

Ken Sugiura, Georgia Tech blog

28 comments Add your comment

Wrecking Ball

October 31st, 2012
3:59 pm

” He returned two kicks for scores, one in 1997 and the 1998 score.”
So, Golden is due for another one next year? Sweet, hopefully that one comes in a close game.

Also, first??

Wrecking Ball

October 31st, 2012
4:06 pm

By the way, that’s an interesting analysis on coaching, and certainly provides a neat historical perspective that I appreciated learning about, but… with an event that rare, can we really attribute kickoff returns for touchdown to coaching? I mean, yeah, it’s a plus for coaching that Golden had the freedom to break to the side opposite to where there was blocking, and perhaps it’s somewhat thanks to coaching that the other guys had the awareness to keep up with the play and flow to the other side to provide support… But still, for something that happens every three or four years, so, let’s call it every 40-45 games or so, seems like it’s more or less random, and is a confluence of good luck (and athelticism) by the returner and bad luck (and mistakes) by the kickoff coverage team.

Bottom Feeders

October 31st, 2012
5:12 pm

Bottom Feeders

October 31st, 2012
5:13 pm

Do we start wearing blue now?
Ga Tech Blue Devils?

fuzzybee78

October 31st, 2012
5:39 pm

Ken,
Could you prepare a story about us upsetting the Dawgs, 6 turnovers etc— and just hold it—-

...Take The Wheel

October 31st, 2012
5:59 pm

That was a really exciting return to watch! I’m so happy for Jamal. He needed that confidence booster! Its good to see them still looking for the big plays. Contrary to popular belief these guys haven’t rolled over. The team still wants and tries to win every time.

Delbert D.

October 31st, 2012
6:52 pm

Ken, I’m assuming that was Dez White?

Supersize that order, mutt

October 31st, 2012
7:00 pm

LOL @ fuzzybee78. I like that kind of logic :)

Supersize that order, mutt

October 31st, 2012
7:01 pm

@ Ken…..FASCINATING article. I really enjoyed reading it. I commend you for all the research. You da man !!!!

And further more

October 31st, 2012
7:05 pm

JAMAL GOLDEN HAS GOT IT GOING ON AND WOULD HAVE SCORED THAT KICKOFF RETURN TD WHETHER WALKOSKY WAS THERE OR NOT, IRRELEVANT…

SO IF WALKOSKY IS GETTING THE CREDIT DOES THAT MEAN HE GETS THE BLAME FOR ALL THE MISSED FG’S AND POINT AFTERS? I SWEAR WE KICKED MORE FG’S WITHOUT A SPECIAL TEAMS COACH..I KNOW SCOTT BLAIR DID

fuzzybee78

October 31st, 2012
7:26 pm

Super, Ken is the secret weapon! Write what we want to happen and whoop there she is!!!!

Supersize that order, mutt

October 31st, 2012
7:41 pm

@ fuzzybee……let’s hope so :)

[...] On Tech ending its kick-return drought [...]

Ken Sugiura

October 31st, 2012
10:50 pm

aiyee. yes. dez white.

Ken Sugiura

October 31st, 2012
10:51 pm

the first story i’m going to write is how i never win the lottery.

Ken Sugiura

October 31st, 2012
10:53 pm

actually, checking again, the first reference to dez white is in the second paragraph.

Ga Tech Old Timer

October 31st, 2012
10:58 pm

In one of last weeks blogs I stated that it was just a matter of time before we had a punt blocked – little did I know the time would be so short. And, I’ll still stand by my statement for further blocks unless / until either our special teams coach or our punter realizes that a 10 – 12 yard drop is not sufficient when the punter is both new to playing the position full time as a true freshman and slow to get the kick off. Those few extra yards will give the punter both extra time to get the kick off as well more time to get a BETTER kick off – as most have been much less than acceptable in terms of height, hang time, direction and distance. I don’t take pride in saying “I told you so” – what I’m saying is that it’s unfortunate that there will be more blocked punts before a simple correction is made.

Ken Sugiura

October 31st, 2012
10:59 pm

and further more – yes, he gets blame for the field-goal unit. i think walkosky, if nothing else, gets credit for putting him on the kickoff return team. it may seem obvious now, but he wasn’t on it last year.
i’m not saying the touchdown is all due to walkosky. that’d be silly. but i’d contend that, given how poor tech’s return teams have been, a point illustrated by the drought, he must be doing something right, even if it’s just picking out the right guy to return kicks.

Ken Sugiura

October 31st, 2012
11:03 pm

wrecking ball – this probably flies in the face of what i just said, but you probably can’t attribute one return solely to coaching. but, as o’leary is obviously doing, the more good returns you set up, the greater your likelihood for breaking one.
Old Timer – i do remember you saying that. kudos to you for noticing. next time i get a chance to ask about it, i will.
super – thanks. it was fun to do.

[...] On Tech finale the kick-return drought [...]

Jacket Detective

November 1st, 2012
8:22 am

Our special teams coach has a huge disadvantage in that he doesn’t get to go against us.

Jacket Detective

November 1st, 2012
8:28 am

It’s time for Charles Kelly to channel his inner Tenuta.
And if he doesn’t know what that means, fire him too.
I should not joke about firing but Johnson should have gotten in Groh’s face and said “blitz you moron”.
Then we win some of the games we gave away when the opposing team’s QB recognized in the 4th quarter, no one was going to pressure him at all and he just took his time for someone to get open, play after play.
With Groh’s no blitz scheme, Bobby Dodd stadium became the other team’s QB’s home away from home.
BTW, bringing one linebacker in addition to three lineman is not a blitz.
It is the regular rush of the 4-3.

www

November 1st, 2012
9:19 am

“About to go down a rabbit hole…”

lol.

At Maryland but....

November 1st, 2012
11:04 am

So if it was 14 years since the last kickoff return for at TD was at Maryland, when was the last kickoff return for TD at Bobby Dodd?

SavJacket

November 1st, 2012
1:20 pm

Ken, If that BYU guy on the edge keeps contain you still have the article you wanted to write. I believe most kickoff TD returns are due more to coverage breakdowns than block scheming. Perhaps during Tech’s 14 year drought they rarely faced teams that had a propensity to not maintain their lane, or the Tech returners in the past never had the freedom to alter their designed route toward an area of coverage breakdown. Either way….thanks Jamal!! and bone-headed BYU guy on the edge!

Johnson responds to critics | Georgia Tech

November 1st, 2012
5:06 pm

[...] On Tech ending its kick-return drought [...]

Vett

November 2nd, 2012
8:38 am

[...] On Tech ending its kick-return drought [...]