Georgia kicker Blair Walsh attempts a field goal against Florida with Drew Butler as his holder. Walsh missed two against the Gators to fall to 13-of-23 this season. (UGA photo by Paul Abell)
In a word, Georgia’s special teams have been deplorable. What makes this such a shocking revelation is the fact that, coming into the season, it was generally believed that the Bulldogs would have not only one of the best overall groups not just in the country this year, but one of the best groups of all time. They featured a Ray Guy Award winner in punter Drew Butler, a Lou Groza Award finalist in kicker Blair Walsh and a record-setting kick returner in Brandon Boykin. Instead, as Georgia enters the last third of the season, here is where it stacks up regionally and nationally:
Category———Average——-SEC rank——-NCAA rank
Field goal %———-.565———–12th———n/a
Opp. punt rets.——14.29———-12th———-108th
Suffice it to say, that is not at all where Georgia expected to be at this point. And it’s not like it has been limited to one area. The Bulldogs have given up two kickoff returns for touchdowns, a punt return for a touchdown, a fake punt for a touchdown, another fake punt for a first down. The Bulldogs certainly would not have expected to be 6-2 and leading the SEC’s Eastern Division at this point with that kind of performance.
I spoke with Georgia’s principal players in this arena on Monday — kicker Blair Walsh, punter Drew Butler and kick return Brandon Boykin — to get their thoughts on the situation and find out what the Bulldogs are doing about it. Here’s what they said.
SENIOR PK BLAIR WALSH (13 for 23 on FGs)
- On performance versus Florida (2 missed FGs): “Disappointing for sure. That was a big team. I’m glad my team was able to pull through and carry me through that.”
- On thoughts this week: “My thoughts are the same they are every week. I’ve just got to go out there and do my job and try to make the kicks they ask me to make. I’ve got to get more consistent, that’s for sure.”
- On what’s wrong: “It’s not like it’s not mechanical; some of it is definitely mechanical. It’s just my approach to it is the same and my overall mindset is fine. I just need to go out there and start making them. That’s what it comes down to. . . . I’ve just got to go out there and finish my swing. I’ve just got to stop worrying about whether it goes in or not. Rather than half my swing, just rip it instead.”
- On coach Mark Richt’s reaction: “He’s been very supportive about the whole thing. He’s an awesome coach and I’ve always appreciated that about him, that he has faith in me.”
- On his confidence at this point: “You live and die by confidence in what I do, in what all specialists do. It’s nice to have [Richt's] confidence, but I’m not oblivious. I’m sure that does run out, I’m sure. But I’m confident in my ability and that I’ll come through and I’ll be fine.”
- On whether he’s had a similar slump: “Not to this extent, no. But you’ve just got to fight through it.”
- On whether he’s getting advice outside program: “People definitely come out of the woodwork, that’s for sure. But it’s not that big of a deal. I’ll figure it out. I’m not going out there and just wanking them or not even coming close. It’s just a couple of things that have to get corrected and have to get solved. I know it’s a boring story, but that’s what it is.”
- On whether he got to celebrate Florida victory: “No, I did. Believe me, I did. It’s a team sport. You can’t be out there pouting about the fact you didn’t do as well as you wanted to do. At the end of the day we won and beat a team we hadn’t beaten in the three years I’ve been here. So that was a big deal. We’re 6-2 and I couldn’t be happier about that. Now I’m not happy about my field goal percentage, that’s for sure. But it’ll change and I’ll make it change.”
- On if he’s been told the job is still his: “That’s the plan right now. . . . But it’s [Richt's] decision. I’m not in control of that. All I can control is how well I practice and how well I’m doing.”
- On kickoffs: “On some of the kicks I’m just trying to keep it up their so my coverage team can get down there and cover it. Six or seven [yards] deep doesn’t guarantee that guy knees it down. If you can find somebody who can kick it 80 yards deep every time, I’d love to meet him.
- On preseason goal to win Groza Award: “I don’t think I was thinking about it. I think it was something I knew that was there. I don’t go out there thinking ‘I need to get this so I can get this award’ or something. I don’t think like that and I never have. I have those expectations and I expect to be in the race for that kind of stuff. I know my abilities and I’m confident in my abilities. If I just stick to my plan and I’ll turn it around.”
- On changing his routine: “I try to keep it the same. I’ve been doing this for 3 1/2 years now or however long it’s been and I’ve just got to get out of the slump I’m in and go.”
SENIOR PUNTER/HOLDER DREW BUTLER (43.8 ypp)
- On his personal performance: “I haven’t exactly been punting our punt coverage team in the best position to make plays and force fair catches and limit return yards. In one aspect I feel like I’ve been kicking the ball well but I haven’t been putting our guys in good enough position to make plays and limit returns and what they can do with the ball.”
- On what needs to be better: “For me, it’s just adding some hang time and being a little more consistent and putting the ball in places where those guys don’t have to make any ridiculous plays to get in guys’ faces. It’s just something I’m going to have to work on. I think we’ve done a good job here recently. Obviously we had a blocked punt against Vanderbilt, which kind of overshadowed the good things we did in that game. I had a pretty bad performance in the second half of this past game. So luckily, one thing that was good about this past week is we didn’t let [Chris] Rainey get a big return. Then, again, our defense stepped up when I had some pretty bad punts. . . . I feel like I’m kicking the ball pretty well and I think as a punt team we’ve done pretty well well minus about four plays the entire season.”
- On what’s being done to address shortcomings: “Daily meetings, 30-45 minutes of practice time each day are dedicated to special teams. Whatever teams we’re working on on each specific day, they rotate. But we have a routine around here we’ve always worked on and it’s worked in the past. For some reason we’re not making the plays we need to make this season.”
- On current points of emphasis: “If anything, it’s just a lot more about getting the players focused and teaching the guys exactly what we want to do from a team standpoint and emphasizing to the guys that one play can equal 7 points for either team or a huge momentum shift in field position. So obviously we’re really stressing to the entire team that we need to win the special teams facet if we want to do what we want to do this season.”
- On Walsh’s struggles: “Without a doubt, I hurt for him. He’s had so much success here in the past. For him to have to go through this rough stretch, it definitely hurts all of us who work with him every day and want to see him succeed. We know what kind of capability he has. So, like I’ve said, we still have four games left here where we can really finish off strong. I have full confidence that he’ll be able to do that.”
- On what has caused problems: “I think it’s just an extremel;y mental game. If people haven’t kick or punted before, I’ve always compared it to golf. If you’re hitting the ball extremely well and not making a lot of putts, it can get in your head and you start getting the yips. I’m not saying Blair has the yips but things happen and sometimes you can become your own worst enemy. So I think the main thing for Blair is just to get that self-confidence back. He’s had really great weeks of practice; he has really good pregame performances. It’s just a matter of having those practice routines translate onto the playing field, which I think will happen pretty soon here.”
- On how Walsh is handling it: “He’s keeping his head up and he’s going through this rough patch exactly how a professional kicker would do it. So hopefully I think he’ll get it all together here pretty soon.”
SENIOR KR/PR BRANDON BOYKIN (22.3 ypr)
- On special teams problems of late: “We’ve had some meltdowns these last couple of games. But, at the same time, we still have guys that are capable of doing what we need them to.”
- On Walsh’s struggles: “I never doubt any player in any part of the kicking game because we have one of the best kickers in the country, despite the slump that people thinks he’s going through. . . . As a kicker, that’s his job. When he doesn’t make them he’s going to get scrutinized. He’s still a good kicker. I think if he continues to work at it and keeps his confidence, he’ll get back on the right track.
- On special teams breakdowns: “Honestly, it’s just us not executing. Special teams were a strongpoint for us coming into the season and we haven’t lived up to those expectations. I think maybe us knowing that we’ve got really good special teams, we kind of need to focus in more on every play like you saw early on. Fake punts and all that stuff is just a matter of us not executing and not focusing. All of that has to change if we want to be successful the rest of the year.”
- On changes from a scheme standpoint: “I think we’re doing pretty much the same things. I just think teams are noticing what we’re doing. They watch film and they can kind of key on things. Teams are definitely doing that. But we’re not executing, not getting to the proper levels and getting our blocks and me not finding the hole quick enough. It’s just a whole bunch of things. We looked at it [Monday] and we’ll continue to look at it the rest of the week and try to get it back to where we had it.”