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August 14, 2012

Those "Nasty Winds"

Georgia's next placekicker – Marshall  Morgan the
next Bulldog to endure the windy St. Johns River?
Continuing with a Georgia-Florida theme...  This year's Cocktail Party will mark the 40th anniversary of Kim Braswell's 37-yard game-winning field goal with less than a minute remaining to defeat Florida by a 10-to-7 score the only time of Georgia's 48 victories in the series that a field goal defeated the hated Gators.

Since Braswell's game-winner in 1972, a dozen different Bulldogs have made a combined 43 field goals in the interstate rivalry, while it seems freshman Marshall Morgan could get a shot in the coming season to join this list of Georgia placekickers.  However, in becoming the team's kicker, poor Marshall must encounter what apparently has plagued Bulldog kickers for years while placekicking inside the Gator Bowl (and yes, like many of you, I continue to refer to the Jacksonville stadium as the Gator Bowl) those "nasty winds" off the St. Johns.

If I had a nickel for every time a local sports talk radio host has mentioned how the "winds blowing funny" off the St. Johns River is a reason why Georgia kickers have struggled in Jacksonville...  Unfortunately, some of us can recall the recent pivotal field-goal misses: Billy Bennett's combined three in 2002 and 2003 in close losses, Brandon Coutu's two misses in a four-point setback in 2005, and Blair Walsh's 1-for-3 efforts in both 2008 and 2011.

Honestly, I've always thought of the nasty-wind theory as merely an excuse another myth to add to the "Jacksonville Jinx" as why the Bulldogs have won just four of the last 22 games played in the rivalry.  However, I will give the belief a bit of credit; the excuse, err, argument is certainly nothing new.  For example, in an interview early in the 1975 season, UGA punter Bucky Dilts indicated that he hated kicking in the Gator Bowl because of the wind.

"The wind blows in circles there," said Dilts.  "You have to keep the ball lower than usual."

Ironically, against the Gators that season, Dilts was perhaps aided by a circling wind when a 52-yard punt of his mysteriously bounced sideways and out of bounds at Florida's 2-yard line, proving to be a critical play in a three-point Georgia victory.

I decided to put the gusty-winds-off-the-river theory to somewhat of a test.  Beginning in 1987, or as far back as I could readily find game-by-game field-goal results, I discovered that the Bulldogs made just 62.5 percent of their field goals in 23 games versus Florida in Jacksonville through 2011 (obviously excludes the home-and-home meetings in 1994 and 1995), including just half of their attempts (11 of 22) during the Mark Richt regime.  By comparison, against all other competition from 1987 to 1993 and 1996 to 2011, Georgia kickers were successful on 74.2 percent of their field-goal tries, or nearly 12 percent higher than when kicking against the Gators.

Whoa, those figures are telling, I thought; perhaps there is something to the belief of funny winds off the St. Johns affecting kickers in the Gator Bowl.  That is, at least Bulldog kickers in the Gator Bowl...

I did the the same calculations for Florida placekickers against Georgia, beginning in 1993, or as far back as I could readily find game-by-game field-goal results for the Gators. Florida made 74.2 percent of its field goals versus Georgia through 2011, compared to 72.7 percent of its attempts against other opponents. Therefore, within the windy confines of the Gator Bowl, the Gators have actually been more successful kicking field goals against the Bulldogs than they have been outside of Jacksonville.  Go figure...
Braswell is mobbed by teammates after defeating UF in
'72 with a game-winning field goal a kick apparently
not disrupted by the Gator Bowl's infamous winds.

Here's what I figure: either God must be a Gator, and He sends gusts of winds off the river when Georgia kickers try their field goals only to die the winds down a bit when Florida kicks, OR despite the fact of influential winds off the St. Johns, Gator kickers over time (but not Georgia's) have adapted to such gusts, OR there are indeed constant winds off the river, however,  they are likely not windy enough to greatly affect a team's placekicking prowess Georgia's drop in field-goal accuracy when facing Florida is purely circumstantial.

Personally, the theory I tend to lean towards when it comes to Georgia struggling to kick field goals against the Gators is one relating to, for example, why Walsh missed 14 field goals last year after missing only a combined five in 2009 and 2010, OR why the Bulldogs lost 12 combined turnovers versus Florida in three games from 2008 to 2010 while forcing just one, OR why a few good Bulldog teams had no business losing to the Gators during their miserable 4-of-22 stretch since 1990, but somehow managed to do so.

This theory can go by a number of different names, and most notably, it has absolutely nothing to do with winds blowing off a river.


Anonymous said...

Hmm. Interesting statistical anomaly with the field goal percentages. I wonder what current and/or former Jacksonville Jaguars kickers would have to say about the funny wind. Or for that matter, kickers from other NFL teams.

Deanna said...

We call that, rather impolitely, "choking."