ATHENS – Some high-profile mishaps — missed extra points, botched punt returns — have obscured generally good play by Georgia’s special-teams units, coach Mark Richt insisted Tuesday.
“I think the special teams as a whole are getting a bad rap,” Richt said.
Richt said he is pleased that Georgia special-teamers have blocked two punts, stopped an opponent’s fake punt attempt, allowed opponents only 18 punt-return yards in the past four games, provided “excellent” kickoff coverage and made four of five field-goal attempts, including two from 50-plus yards.
He also said “kickoff return has actually been pretty solid” with the exception of the one on which Todd Gurley stepped out of bounds at UGA’s 1-yard line against Tennessee. Gurley and Malcolm Mitchell “have big-play potential as kickoff return men,” said Richt, who mentioned Gurley’s 100-yard return in the season opener.
All of that said, Richt acknowledged the problems with PATs and punt returns.
Freshman Marshall Morgan has missed three extra-point attempts despite his success on field goals, and Georgia failed to get another PAT off because of a bad snap.
“I know our extra points have been an adventure,” Richt said. “No doubt we have to get better at that.”
Asked if senior walk-on Jamie Lindley might get an opportunity to kick extra points, Richt said: “He gets reps there [in practice], but if Lindley had been ‘Mr. Automatic,’ he probably would have gotten an opportunity [in a game] by now. In practice he just hasn’t been ‘Mr. Automatic’ either, so I think we are better off right now sticking with Marshall and allowing him to get used to doing it.”
Richt’s dissatisfaction with punt returns — specifically with decisions on whether to field the ball or let it roll — led to a mid-game switch from Mitchell to former walk-on Rhett McGowan against Tennessee. Richt said McGowan will remain the primary punt returner Saturday at South Carolina but added that Mitchell must stay ready.
“I do know that we’ve not fielded the punts very well,” Richt said. “We’ve had some mistakes there. That’s part of the reason why we’re allowing Rhett to go ahead and do that.
“If a guy gets benched from being a return man, that’s not fun for him,” Richt added, referring to Mitchell. “These kids understand what’s going on. The other thing is, they have to be ready. Malcolm, he may return two for touchdowns this game; it just depends on how things go in the ballgame. You just never know when your opportunity will come again.”
On balance, Richt said, the special-teams units have been a big part of Georgia’s 5-0 start.
“There are a few things that stick out that make you feel like everything in the special teams is going wrong. But it’s not,” he said. “We have six different units; the majority of the units, I think, have done pretty well.”
Mitchell ‘primarily’ offense
After focusing on defense through spring practice, preseason camp and the season’s first four weeks, cornerback-wide receiver Mitchell’s priority clearly has turned to offense.
“He’s primarily an offensive player [now],” Richt said, “and he’s in a state of readiness on defense.”
Mitchell did not play any defensive snaps last week against Tennessee.
To prepare the team for the noise at South Carolina, offensive coordinator Mike Bobo instructed quarterback Aaron Murray to whisper at practice, Murray said. … Saturday’s game will mark the first time in Georgia-South Carolina series history that the teams meet with both ranked in the nation’s top 10. … South Carolina’s nine-game winning streak, dating to last season, matches the longest in program history (set in 1984). … Eight of the past 11 Georgia-South Carolina games have been decided by seven or fewer points.
– Tim Tucker