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January 10, 2012

In Our Heads

As the 2011 college football season officially ended last night, I realized that I'm just about over the Bulldogs ending their campaign in very disappointing fashion.  I've basically forgotten that Georgia simply handed another victory to an opponent, which is exactly what I was afraid might happen.

Still, I cannot seem to get Blair Walsh and particularly his first failed field-goal attempt in overtime against the Spartans out of my head.

As one who is passionate about the history of UGA football, I've imagined how historic, memorable, and almost fitting it would have been if Walsh had made his first overtime attempt - a kick I actually thought was good until the very last moment.  After recording two of the greatest seasons ever by a Georgia placekicker, here's a player who had struggled all year and yet on his final field-goal attempt as a Bulldog, he not only wins the Outback Bowl but sets the SEC's all-time career scoring record in the process.

Alas, as we all know, Walsh's kick instead missed, he later set the record on an attempt to force another overtime, and his final and second-most important field-goal try as a Bulldog was blocked, ending the placekicker's Georgia career.

What I can't seem to get out of my head is how did it come to this?  What on earth happened to Blair Walsh this season? 

How does a former All-American, who missed as many field goals in two years combined that you can count on one hand, miss 14 attempts in a single season?

During the season, I heard that Walsh is surely "rattled," or simply put, there must be "something in his head."  But surely and simply there must have been something more to it than just that... 

Look, I have no place-kicking experience.  The last time I kicked a ball in organized sports, it was a soccer ball, and that was way back in middle school, and my kick probably went astray and out of bounds.  Also, I realize that Blair is a college kid in his early-20s, so just about anything is possible.  In addition, I'm a firm believer in until you walk a mile in a man's shoes, it's difficult to judge him

However, this is beyond baffling:

In 2009, Walsh made 20 of 22 field goals, or 90.9 percent.  Of the 52 players in FBS football to attempt at least 20 field goals that season, Walsh's 90.9 percent was tied for the SECOND best in the nation.

In 2010, Walsh made 20 of 23 field goals, or 87.0 percent.  Of the 44 players in FBS football to attempt at least 20 field goals that season, Walsh's 87.0 percent was the FIFTH best in the nation. 

In 2011, Walsh made 21 of 35 field goals, or only 60.0 percent.  Of the 43 players in FBS football to attempt at least 20 field goals this season, Walsh's 60.0 percent was tied for the SECOND WORST in the nation.

In my research and work over the years, I've nerdily looked over and analyzed more statistics than I care to recall, and I've hardly ever observed something quite like this: a near first-to-worst player at his position - one of the best placekickers in the country instantly becomes arguably the worst.   

You would have to believe that if Georgia had some sort of coach specifically for the special teams unit and/or for kickers, it would have only helped Walsh.  Granted, the Bulldogs didn't have such an assistant in 2009 and 2010 when the placekicker was at his best; however, a special teams coordinator, or the like, on Georgia's sidelines in 2011 could have only provided  assistance to Walsh during his apparent meltdown.

For 21 seasons from 1974 to 1994, Bill Hartman was a volunteer kicking coach at Georgia.  The placekickers under the former Bulldog standout is like a who's who of the greatest kickers ever at UGA: Allan Leavitt, Rex Robinson, Kevin Butler, Steve Crumley, John Kasay, Todd Peterson, and Kanon Parkman.  From 1974 through 1994, Bulldog placekickers made better than 70 percent (70.3) of their field-goal attempts.  During the same time period, the remaining kickers in all of major college football were nearly 10 percent less accurate (61.1).  Assuredly, Hartman had something to do - even if it was only the slightest - with this remarkable difference in accuracy.

I realize the NCAA eliminated volunteer coaches nearly 15 years ago, and Georgia doesn't have a full-time special teams coach because Coach Richt takes the same approach as his mentor, Bobby Bowden, and divides the special teams amongst position coaches. 

For 2011, it's my understanding that offensive line coach Will Friend was responsible for coaching the PAT and field-goal kicking unit.  Friend may have been an All-SEC lineman for Alabama in 1997, but I seriously doubt the one-time 6-foot-2, 275-pound offensive guard attempted many PATs or field goals in his time. 

More than two months ago, when asked if he ever considered a full-time special teams coach, Richt said he "looked at it" but "if you have a guy that does only special teams, all of the sudden you’re robbing a position from the offense or defense."

Coach, desperate times call for desperate measures, and whether you have to rob, steal, or cheat, something needs to be done for next year regarding Georgia's special teams - perhaps a new approach from the old-school way of Bobby Bowden. 

Specifically, whether Walsh was coached by  Friend, had his own personal kicking coach, or wasn't coached at all, it simply did not work in 2011; whatever was "in his head" evidently stayed there the entire season with no assistance for escape. 


Anonymous said...

Mr. Georgia Football Returns

Coach Mark Richt has become the Blair Walsh of SEC Coaches!

Dawgfan17 said...

Bennett, Walsh, Coutu. Not saying that a special teams coach wouldn't help but we have done well, at least from a kicking stand point without one. Plus who is to say that having a special teams co-ordinator would improve kicking. Coverage, schemes etc. but I doubt you want a guy who has ever only kicked coming up with the coverage schemes.

Patrick Garbin said...

Thanks for your comment. You made my point in your first sentence; a ST coach likely would've only helped Walsh. And "we have done well"? Not in 2011...

J.R. Clark said...

It's a damn shame that Coach Richt won't utilize Rex Robinson and/or Kevin Butler, both of whom are available to tutor our kickers and carry on the tradition Coach Hartman set for Georgia.