Expected to be a strength, Georgia’s special teams have been horrific

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)

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

Kickoff coverage—–42.3———–12th———109th

Kickoff returns——-22.3————8th———-53rd

Punting (net)———33.9———-12th———-104th

Punt returns———-7.6————7th———–68th

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.”

197 comments Add your comment

ARdawg

November 1st, 2011
10:03 am

GO DAWGS!

Atrocious

oh 1st

RUSS FOR PERMANENT MASCOT

November 1st, 2011
10:10 am

JUST WIN BABY!!!!!!!!!!!

BigDawg

November 1st, 2011
10:11 am

Put the best players on “special” teams!!

Michael

November 1st, 2011
10:11 am

2nd

Maybe Richt should hire a special teams coach. Just a thought.

stats

November 1st, 2011
10:12 am

http://espn.go.com/college-football/statistics/player/_/stat/kicking/sort/fieldGoalPct/order/false

Walsh has the 18th worst (out of 104) FG % in the nation for people who have attempted at least 1 per game, so that makes his NCAA rank 86th

GAWGADAWG

November 1st, 2011
10:16 am

specials team play it could be worst but I don’t know how. the player seem to not want to get to the man with the bal. afraid of being hurt I guess. very slow to react need to make changesl

ATL Sports Fan

November 1st, 2011
10:18 am

Hey Michael, if Richt does this, which coach do you want to see him let go in order to hire a special teams coach??

Mike Bobo, Todd Grantham, Rodney Garner, Will Friend, Scott Laktos, or Coach O, Tony Ball, or Bryan Mclendon. Just remember you let one of these coaches go then you do not a position coach for the positions they coach. NCAA mandates you are only allowed to have 9 coaches on staff.

GAWGADAWG

November 1st, 2011
10:19 am

Must add when a 280 pound man can make a long run against the special team they dont want to tackle him as I am 76 years old and could catch him but we had no one close.

DawginLex

November 1st, 2011
10:20 am

I felt bad for Walsh last game. He really wants to help the team win.

I wonder if Bogotay is an option to kickoff?

We have the punter recruited for next year from Cartersville. Anybody keeping up with the kid recruited for kicker?

BurytheBone

November 1st, 2011
10:20 am

We are struggling in this area know doubt about it. I would have to agree we need a coach just for special team defense and a specialist to work out the problems Walsh seems to be having. If we don’t do anything else. GO DAWGS SIC EM WOOF WOOF WOOF

ATL Sports Fan

November 1st, 2011
10:21 am

The only person that makes sense would be Lilly. Then you would have to have Tony Ball coach tightends and receivers. Bottom line is MOST NCAA teams do not have as special teams coach, each coach on staff is assigned duties.

ATL Sports Fan

November 1st, 2011
10:23 am

Guys, please educate yourself on how the NCAA works. Bury, if they use your logic now you have to let 2 positions coaches go. So then who do you let go?

Mr. Dawg

November 1st, 2011
10:24 am

This has truly been a mind boggling issue. Richt has never had a dedicated special teams coach and – as this article points out – as recently as last year that part of the game was considered a strength for the Bulldogs. My concern is that no one seems to be held accoutable for the lapse unless Coach Richt himself wants to shoulder the blame. On thing is for sure, if the special teams fall flat and cost the Bulldogs any of the remaining games he’ll be the one that has to answer for it. I strongly support Coach Richt. So I would hate to see this problem bring him down particularly if the team plays well on downs 1 through 3.

The Grinch

November 1st, 2011
10:29 am

Horrific doesn’t adequately describe it, Chip. Please go back and come up with a more “horrific” word to use.

DawginLex

November 1st, 2011
10:30 am

Anybody looked at our next opponent?

NMSU is not Coastal Carolina

They beat Minnesota who just beat Iowa

They are not chopped liver. Throw it a ton, can’t run too well. Defense is undersized but this team is capable of throwing a scare into an unmotivated team with their minds still in Jacksonville………….

UGABugKiller

November 1st, 2011
10:30 am

Oh, I don’t know Mark Richt, how about you ACT LIKE YOU CARE ABOUT SPECIAL TEAMS???

Put STARTERS on the Special Teams, as CHAMPIONSHIP-WINNING COACHES HAVE DONE!!!

Make the Special Teams SPECIAL. Make it an HONOR to serve on them. And how about YOU YOURSELF, Mr. CEO, Coach the damn Special Teams… HOW ABOUT THAT???

WHY AM I YELLING???

Because Special Teams BREAKDOWNS have been an problem for Richt’s ENTIRE 11 YEAR CAREER AT UGA!!!

STOP PUTTING WALK-ONS WHO SOULD NEVER SEE THE FIELD ON SPECIAL TEAMS, MARK RICHT!!!

Dawgdad (The Original)

November 1st, 2011
10:31 am

Your article implies that this is something new. For the past 4-5 years UGA has had subpar special teams. Last year we couldn’t stop the kickoff return, nor return one. A touchback last year was a great play when we were receiving. I remember several fumbles by returners, especially Brandon Smith.

Just more of the same, year after year. Richt said before the season, responding to criticism of special teams play, that we are going to work hard on ST this year. Well, here are the results.

ARdawg

November 1st, 2011
10:31 am

Richt to OC duties and Bobo to special teams?….LOL

mcdaviddawg

November 1st, 2011
10:32 am

This is what you get when you have a head coach that doesn’t think speciial teams matter. Part of the overall lack of effort by Georgia coaching.

RxDawg

November 1st, 2011
10:33 am

I am of the opinon that we should do the following things.

1. Never kick another field goal for the rest of the season. We either go for it, or punt if it’s an obvious punting situation.

2. Do nothing but kick onside kicks. Learn them, master them. If they’re going return it to around the 40 anyway or worse, we might as well have a shot at it. Plus their not likely to return it for a TD this way.

Just abandon special teams all together. It’s broke and it aint gonna get fixed by this point.

Bama in Atlanta

November 1st, 2011
10:34 am

From my understanding, the problem may be too many cooks in the kitchen in that Richt has several coaches responsible for various parts of special teams. Bama doesn’t have a dedicated Special Teams coach but the Tight End coach doubles as the ST coach as well and is probably the way a lot of teams handle this due to NCAA regulations on number of coaches.

Not to say that Richt has to follow the path of all other teams but if the process you have is not working then it may be time to change the process. UGA obviously has the player talent for special teams, it just needs the proper coaching process.

Dawgdad (The Original)

November 1st, 2011
10:37 am

You guys are looking at it wrong. ST is a third of the game, very important. We need to find someone good with special Teams, think VT, then let that person coach a position, like Tight ends, as well. I had rather have a jam up profession ST coach who is not that great as a TE coach, as have a super star TE coach who screws up STs.

RUSS FOR PERMANENT MASCOT

November 1st, 2011
10:39 am

RxDawg….

Hmmmmm. You may have a point there..

Jake Dawg

November 1st, 2011
10:41 am

I’m with Russ. just win baby. A win is a win, no matter how ugly. we won’t remember how bad the game was five years from now, just that it was a W. Obviously we have a good opponent to tune up our special teams against before the war tigers roll into town.

The Grinch

November 1st, 2011
10:41 am

RxDawg
November 1st, 2011
10:33 am

Nah, abandon the onside kick concept. That gives them the ball around our 40. Instead, intentionally kick it out of bounds. That way they get the ball on THEIR 40 so it’s a net 20 yard gain. :cool:

robodawg

November 1st, 2011
10:41 am

Chip, our kickoff coverage improved dramatically last year from the year before. This coincided with coaching changes. But now we’re back to where we were previously. This off-season we lost a LB coach and picked up another. How do the coaching duties line up with special teams duties? A lot of this is coaching, things coaches should be able to fix. This is fundamental football.

Also, have there been any changes of responsibility as far as who coaches the kickers?

UGABugKiller

November 1st, 2011
10:41 am

Dawgdad… so, you’re saying we hire FrankBeamer to coach our Special Teams… because like UrbanMeyer, Beamer coaches his own special teams.

Big Dawg

November 1st, 2011
10:42 am

Walsh’s struggles are in his head and can be rectified by putting in Bogatay to take care of the kicking duties until he gets his head on straight. Next there is no excuse for the mental breakdowns each week when guys on the punt coverage team just run back without first checking to make sure the ball is punted. This goes directly to coaching in not being on top of these guys to insure this stops. In watching our punt returners too many times we fair catch the ball when there is ample room to return it. Once again this is a mental thing on the part of the return man and what he is seeing in front of him, split second decision on whether to catch and run or fair catch the ball. Hopefully this will all get rectified but don’t count on it as I don’t think Coach Richt will do the right thing and sit Walsh, IMHO should have done it 3 games ago. He should also demote Mike BoBo and hire a true offensive coordinator. Just don’t see it happening though.

Go Dawgs

Destin Dawg

November 1st, 2011
10:42 am

we do need to practice 2 or 3 on side kick plays….. Walsh needs to work on fundamentals.. just like my golf drives… strong kicks… just off to right 2 degrees… keep your head down and follow through…. Play your best athletes on special teams… Duh ???

JimDog85

November 1st, 2011
10:42 am

@ ATL Sports Fan – I thought Scott Lakatos did leave last summer to take a job with the Carolina Panthers. I think that has been the biggest reason for the fall off because he was the special teams cooridinator last year and did a great job.

I remember two seasons ago when the preseason hype from the AJC was how good our offensive line is going to be. It’s the kiss of death with the paper starts telling you how good you are before you play in any games.

GTBob

November 1st, 2011
10:42 am

Blair Walsh is having one of the strangest meltdowns I have ever seen. The guy used to be automatic. Now UGA is reluctant to even let him try. Kinda sad because he has pretty much killed any chance for an NFL career.

Dawg2011

November 1st, 2011
10:43 am

Amazing that competition works for all positions except QB and place kicker. Maybe Bogatay isn’t any better- but at least have some competition in practice to see…

Ed Pilcher

November 1st, 2011
10:43 am

And this is what happens when you don’t have a special teams coach on your staff.

RUSS FOR PERMANENT MASCOT

November 1st, 2011
10:43 am

Thanks Jake Dawg!!!

Destin Dawg

November 1st, 2011
10:45 am

Belin went to Carolina… Lakatos would be a good choice to coach Special teams…

Jake Dawg

November 1st, 2011
10:46 am

Don’t we have an inside and an outside linebacker’s coach? Or am I a year behind?

Dap01

November 1st, 2011
10:47 am

UGA has got to do something different. CMR’s staff is producing a horrible special teams product. They had better change. UGA can be very good with our new defense but only if the special teams become AVERAGE!

We certainly can’t rely on Bobo to call a good game.

Destin Dawg

November 1st, 2011
10:47 am

we should fake 4th down once in a while on field goal attempts….

Mtn Dawg

November 1st, 2011
10:48 am

@RUSS FOR PERMANENT MASCOT – You go dude!. ‘RUSS IS FOR US!’

Ed Pilcher

November 1st, 2011
10:49 am

Kickers are a strange lot. They have a fragile psyche to begin with, and the least little thing can put them into a funk like a trembling Chiuaua dog………I’ve known a lot of kickers over the years as a high school coach, and I’ve never met one yet that wasn’t just a tad weird, if not a full-time Twilight Zoner. There’s something strange in the first palce about someone who makes a living with his feet…..Kinda like a grape-stomper.

Destin Dawg

November 1st, 2011
10:50 am

Chris Hatcher for O.C.

ARdawg

November 1st, 2011
10:50 am

Walsh has been solid in the past and will be again. Of that I have no doubt. Richt sending him out every other possession seems to have gotten into his psyche

RUSS FOR PERMANENT MASCOT

November 1st, 2011
10:50 am

@ Mtn Dawg… LOL!!!!! Like your slogan….

Destin Dawg

November 1st, 2011
10:51 am

Don’t go to sleep on New Mexico State.. this is not a practice game

RUSS FOR PERMANENT MASCOT

November 1st, 2011
10:53 am

I thought I heard GA was favored by something like 34 1/2 over New Mex. St.

Richt, the early years

November 1st, 2011
10:53 am

We blocked punts, FGs and did what it took to win in Richt’s early UGA years. Lately, Richt seems to have lost the edge in the very minute, fine details of the game.

McGarity last January told him to clear his calendar, clean his desk up and become a student of the game. Apparently, the Coaching 101 book had no chapters on Special Teams.

Gooooooooooooooo Dogs. Sic em!!!

Dap01

November 1st, 2011
10:56 am

Since CMR stated that he wanted to be more like a CEO, UGA’s football team seems poorly prepared. We have great talent, a great defensive coach and poor offensive coordination and horrible special team preparation.

hammerhead

November 1st, 2011
10:56 am

I understand the strategy to divvy up special teams responsibilities and not have a “special teams coach”; what I find disturbing is the lack of accountability. Instead of posing questions to the coach in charge of Kickoff / return, the media are grilling players on what’s wrong. Coaches are PAID to do their jobs which makes them accountable for the unit they’re assigned… They should be answering these questions and held accountable for their responsibilities.

RiffRaff

November 1st, 2011
10:56 am

Heard Walsh broke up with his long time girlfriend this past summer. Maybe that has something to do with it. Anyway, Butler will be alright. More concerned about the coverage on kickoffs and punts.

Destin Dawg

November 1st, 2011
10:57 am

Richt wants to be a missionary preacher when he retires… give him and Grantham a 3 year contract extension.. make Grantham H.C. in waiting ??? Go Dawgs !!!