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December 30, 2011

Far, Far from Special

The Honey Badger's punt return for a score in the SECC
was one of eight touchdowns via returns allowed by the
Bulldogs this season - a school record you won't find
proudly listed in the Bulldog record book. 
It's certainly nothing new to declare that Georgia's special teams unit, on the whole, has been quite a disappointment this season.  Forecasted in the preseason by college football guru Phil Steele as having the best special teams in the nation, the Bulldogs, as recently mentioned by Marc Weiszer of the Athens Banner-Herald, currently rank in the bottom of the SEC in nearly every special teams category.   

Particularly, the amount of yardage Georgia has allowed per kickoff and punt return, its number of missed field goals, and total touchdowns yielded via return is each down-right distressing, especially historically speaking.

Two months ago, I posted how statistically the Bulldogs' defense was on pace to be one of the better defenses in Georgia football history.  Well, the exact opposite can be said for the same squad concerning the following aspects of its special teams unit:

AVERAGE YARDS ALLOWED PER KICKOFF RETURN (23.5): The 23.5 yards allowed per kickoff return this season is the 9th highest of any Georgia football team in 63 seasons of obtainable data (1949 through 2011).  Notably, the 1962 Bulldogs yielded a historical-high 28.9 yards, and just two years ago in 2009 (Remember that dreadful kickoff-coverage unit?), Georgia allowed 25.7 yards.  Historically, the Bulldogs have yielded a total average of 20.2 yards per the nearly 2,500 kickoff returns by opponents since 1949.  In addition, the 120 FBS teams have combined to average 21.7 yards thus far this season.      

AVERAGE YARDS ALLOWED PER PUNT RETURN (16.1): For the 2011 season, FBS teams have averaged 8.8 yards per punt return.  Since 1949, Georgia historically has yielded a similar average of 8.5 yards per return.  However, the 2011 Bulldogs are allowing a whopping 16.1 yards per punt return, or the 2nd-highest amount in school history, only behind the 18.4 average given up almost 60 years ago in 1953.

MISSED FIELD GOALS (13): The 13 combined missed field goals this season by Blair Walsh (12) and Brandon Bogotay (1) are tied for the most of any Georgia football team in 52 seasons of obtainable data (1960 through 2011).  The 1969 Bulldogs also missed 13 field goals; however, with all fairness to Jim McCullough (10) and Mike Cavan (3), their misses resulted during a time when your average major-college kicker was successful on just approximately 48 percent of his field-goal attempts. 

Since 1960, Georgia has averaged just 6.4 missed field goals per season.  Also, of the 100 FBS kickers who've made at least seven field goals this year, including Walsh, they've combined to make 74 percent of their field-goal tries while missing an average of less than five attempts for the season.  As indicated, Walsh has missed a staggering 12 attempts thus far while making only 61 percent of his field-goal tries.

TOUCHDOWNS ALLOWED VIA RETURN (8): This is likely the most startling of the four failed facets, and yes, I do realize it doesn't only concern Georgia's special teams, but whether by kickoff (2), punt (2), interception (3), or fumble (1), the Bulldogs have allowed 8 returns for touchdowns this season.  This figure is especially astounding since Georgia allowed NO returns for scores a year ago, and over the last 34 seasons (1978 through 2011), has yielded an annual average of just 1.6 returns for touchdowns.  The eight returns allowed for touchdowns is historically the most at Georgia with the five allowed by the 1994 Bulldogs coming in at a distant second. 

So, there you have it - four critical aspects of special teams play, where the 2011 Bulldogs rank as the 9th-worst (of 63), the next to worst, tied for the worst, and the worst in school history.  Similar results for two of the categories could perhaps be acknowledged as having little to no association and insignificant, but for FOUR?!? 

There lies a problem where something is undoubtedly amiss.  The solution? 

Do the Bulldogs need to hire an assistant responsible for only the special teams or, at least, should a number of high-quality players, even if they're already an offensive or defensive starter, play on kickoff and/or punt coverage as well?  Personally, I'm in favor of both, especially when the issue with Georgia's special teams, according to Alec Ogletree, is "guys kind of doing their own thing, not doing it the right way."

In Weiszer's article, Coach Richt mentioned that there will be more focus and a "high sense of urgency" on special teams come this spring, although it sure would be nice if some sort of solution came a little sooner, like by January 2nd.  This season, Michigan State has averaged 24.3 yards per kickoff return (15th in the FBS), 11.2 yards per punt return (25th), and has scored SIX touchdowns via return.

Because of poor kickoff and punt coverage, missed field goals, and/or allowing touchdowns on returns,  Georgia has already endured one loss this season (South Carolina) it otherwise would have won, while coming close to defeat on other occasions.  Simply put, let's hope there is some sort of urgency in not  giving away another ballgame to the opposition, beginning not this spring, but three days from now in Tampa. 


Anonymous said...

Of course you have to wonder, assuming our coaches watched the Ark - LSU game, why we kicked anything to Honey Badger. Take away those two touchdowns and the two given up by the offense, then we have a game even enough the offense disappeared during the 2nd through the 4th quarter.

Anonymous said...

Patrick, this is an excellent analysis highlighting the fact that something has been drastically wrong with Georgia's special teams. I like both of your suggested solutions. both of which would be relatively easy to implement.
Happy 2012 from the Old Dawg

Patrick Garbin said...

Thanks for reading and your comments.