Some media observers were amazed to see quite a few UGA fans griping about various aspects of the win over Florida.
Granted, maybe those unable to fully celebrate a big victory in Jacksonville do need to lighten up a bit.
But immediately after the game even Mark Richt found it necessary to lament the distressing state of the Dogs’ special teams play, which has been a recurring problem this season since the South Carolina game. “We’ve just got to keep from giving the game away on special teams,” he said.
At another point, he said Georgia’s special teams were “mostly average to scary.”
Actually, I’d say mostly scary. It got to the point in the Florida game where after a Georgia score the first thing you thought was, “Oh, no, now we’ve got to kick off again!” — and the squib kicks later in the game were a welcome sight.
It was bad enough that placekicker Blair Walsh continued his slump, and even normally rock-solid punter Drew Butler had a bad day. But it’s in kick coverage that the Dogs really get really scary. Georgia ranks 109th in the nation in kickoff coverage and isn’t much better in punt coverage, ranking 104th.
UGA fan John Thrasher summed up a lot of folks’ thinking on my Facebook page:
“Georgia needs to take a hard look at their approach to Special Teams. 2011 has been one of the worst performances of Georgia special teams that I can remember. I believe that Frank Beamer [of] Virginia Tech personally coaches his special teams. His approach, ‘Beamer Ball,’ is that special teams is a critical factor in winning. He selects his best athletes for special teams. It is an honor to be selected. I think Georgia needs a similar approach. We have given up way too many big plays this year from kickoff and punt returns to allowing big yardage on fake punts. In regards to our inability to be ready for an opponents fake punt, a fellow frustrated fan lamented that he ‘didn’t remember when an opponent’s fake punt had not been successful.’ Our inability to cover the kickoff against Florida (and Vandy, for that matter) was almost our undoing. Love to hear your thoughts.”
The first suggestion from most people, including the CBS broadcast crew Saturday, is that UGA needs a full-time special teams coach, but I don’t think that’s likely to happen since Richt subscribes to approach taken by his mentor, Bobby Bowden, in splitting up the responsibilities for special teams among the position coaches. I do think perhaps returning to having one of those coaches be the overall special teams coordinator might be a step in the right direction.
The problem appears to be more execution on the field than coaching (though in the case of falling for fake punts the coaches probably should take the bigger share of the blame). The answer, as Georgia kicking great Kevin Butler was noting on the radio after Saturday’s game, would appear to be putting more veterans and starters on the kick coverage teams in place of all those freshmen and walk-ons that tend to get the bulk of their playing time there.
As John Thrasher said, Beamer has had a lot of success making special teams truly special, and Urban Meyer took the same approach in his time at Florida, making it an honor to serve on the special teams. Georgia does have some starters show up on special teams but from comments Richt has made that appears to be more a case of them acting on their own volition and pulling rank on a younger player, rather than the result of any grand design by the coaching staff.
As for the skill players on special teams, one bad game for Butler shouldn’t be that alarming. Walsh will just have to sort out whatever’s going on between his ears since Richt appears set on sticking with him — not just because of his past success but because apparently he’s the most consistent of Georgia’s kickers in practice. Butler thinks perhaps Walsh needs to cut back and quit kicking so much, especially in the pregame warmup.
Whatever the case, as Richt put it: “We’ve gotta figure something out, don’t we?”
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