“Do you change?”

I haven’t done much posting on the first few practices because it’s early and because, quite frankly, the usual suspects like Hale and Weiszer (along with the guys at The Red and Black) are doing great jobs getting us info that I presume you’re following as steadily as am I.

But I’ve got to admit that Weiszer’s article on Brandon Bogotay prompts an observation or two.

It illustrates one of the key battles to keep an eye on this month.  No, not the battle between Bogotay and Blair Walsh over who wins the kickoff job.  It’s the battle between kicking the ball into the end zone  and directional kickoffs.  And judging from this Coach Fabris quote, it’s a battle that’s going to go down to the wire.

“Do you change?” asked assistant coach Jon Fabris, who oversees the unit. “That’s kind of like saying we’ve been running the offense we’ve been running here and we sign a Michael Vick – that kind of guy. Do you implement some things for (Georgia’s dual-threat backup quarterback) Logan Gray? Do you emphasize some things to show him off? That’s no different than that deal.”

Um, let’s just skip past that whole Logan Gray-as-Michael Vick thing, if you don’t mind.  Is Fabris suggesting that Bogotay should be deployed as a change of pace type on kickoffs?  That makes little sense.  If bottom line Georgia’s opponents start off with worse field position on average with directional kicking that with end-zone kicking, then you stick with directional.  But if kicking another way proves to be a better way to skin the cat, what’s the point of deploying it only on occasion?

Now I know things aren’t as simple as kick the ball as hard as you can and see where it lands – even Richt, whose decision to offer the scholarship to Bogotay in the past offseason without doing any personal scouting is one of the most intruiging moves I’ve seen him make, offers a caveat.

“They still have to kick it to a spot, whether they kick it in the end zone or not,” Richt said. “You can’t just spray the ball any old where. You can’t kick with reckless abandon and say, ‘I hope it’s going out of the end zone,’ because if it doesn’t, your cover team has no prayer.”

But you can tell he’s not married to any particular philosophy.  He simply knows that kickoff coverage is an area that is in need of drastic improvement this season.  Fabris, on the other hand, sounds like a man in need of some convincing.

“What can a guy do?” Fabris said. “Not only what can he do once, twice, 10 percent of the time. What can he do, not 100 percent, but fairly consistently and what can you hang your hat on? If it’s just sometimes this, sometimes that, you don’t know what you can hang your hat on.”

The NCAA moved kickoffs from the 35-yard line to the 30 before the 2007 season. Walsh had four touchbacks and kicked eight of his 75 kickoffs out of bounds last season. The out-of-bounds kicks were particularly painful because they carry a penalty that can give the receiving team possession at its 40-yard line.

“Go way, way back and the idea of kicking the ball to a certain area of the field certainly isn’t to kick the ball a yard from the sideline – just to get it down in the general area,” Fabris said. “If the ball is sprayed out of bounds, it’s like a wide-open receiver if the ball is thrown 15 feet over his head. After a while, if that ball keeps not being thrown right, you have to say, well, what else can we do?

“If you were the head coach and you had a guy that could put the ball in the second row of the end zone every time, what would you do?”

Like I said, it’s something to watch over the next three weeks.

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UPDATE: Now we know who Fabris’ favorite kicker is.

“Billy Bennett did not have a real strong leg,” Fabris said. “In fact, he never kicked off until his senior year and really did it out of the bottom of his heart because we didn’t have anybody, but the thing about Billy is even though he didn’t have a very strong leg, he knew where it was going to land just about every time. At least that was the thing. He could place the ball. You’ve just got to know what you can do. And of course, the more things a kid can do, (the better). For example, the winds blowing fairly good at your back, `Hey, I think we can get this one in the end zone five yards deep.’ ‘Hey, go for it.’ How about the next quarter when you’re kicking into it? That doesn’t’ work anymore.”

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16 Comments

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16 responses to ““Do you change?”

  1. mykiesee

    My God. Bless his heart.
    Is he on medication? That was very surreal. I’m gonna have to process that for a while. Wow.

  2. BenG

    My interpretation of Fabris’ rambling about Logan Gray appears to be a little different than yours. I understood it as a clumsy way of posing the question: do we change what we’re doing because our kicker has different strengths? If “what we’re doing” is kicking the ball out of bounds or ten yards shy of the end zone, then by all means, please change it.

    • I think that misses the point of why Bogotay was offered the scholarship in the first place. Or do you think he’s here because they have hopes of molding him into a better directional kicker?

      • BenG

        Crap, I hope not. Seems like the concern is that even if he can boot it deep enough for a touchback 80% of the time, what happens the other 20%? They don’t want the coverage guys to be left high and dry if the ball isn’t deep enough.

        One big problem with directional kicking is that the greater the angle of the kick, the harder it is to get the ball deep enough for a touchback. Pythagoras explained that one a long, long time ago. If a touchback is what you’re after, then kicking straight down the field gives you the best chance of getting it. Of course, covering the kick is a different problem. Our coaches seem to be really scared of covering a kick in the middle of the field.

        • Dog in Fla

          Pythagoras? Of course! That explains why old- school Coach Fab was seen during special teams practice wearing a redandblack plastic “WWHD?” (“What Would Hypotenuse Do?”) bracelet and slapping his vintage Dietz slide rule across the knuckles of our kickers who either kicked it out of bounds or couldn’t hit the G-spot.

      • Macallanlover

        Exactly Senator. I felt Bogotay was an excellent use of a scholly under the premise he was able to consistently put the ball either into the end zone, or high enough that when it hangs inside the 5 yardline our coverage team can get down field. If he cannot due to a strong wind, then use a directional, or low kick. I felt confident this decision had been made prior to the offer. If Fabris prefers a directional kick versus finding someone who can take it deep, save the scholly and get some frat rat out of the stands to kick it fifty yards out of bounds. Then our defense can continue to start off in the hole and we can blame them for how often the opponents follow one of our scores with one of their own. (I don’t know the stat on that, but I would be willing to bet UGA is the worst in the country in this category over the last 5+ years….among winning programs.)

  3. D.N. Nation

    Just kick the damn thing through the endzone. I don’t care who does it.

    Is this so much to ask? Mercy.

  4. Joe B.

    We seem to be trying to re-invent the wheel with kickoffs every year.

    Just put Bogotay in there and tell him to let it rip to one side of the field or the other.

    Tell the cover team to stay in their lanes and avoid the blocker assigned to them.

    With teams like Gtu and UF reverting to middle school offenses with great success, I wish we would do the same with kickoffs.

    Why does Fabris have to get so philosophical about a task that is so damned simple?

  5. 69Dawg

    +1 Joe B. The real problem is that we have been using an 80 20 mix on KO coverage. 80% walkons and 20% starting D so they can make the tackle at the 45. We are screwed because CMR does not apparently believe what about 95% of the coaches believe that the Special Teams can win or lose the game for you. If he did we would have the 11 fastest D players going down there and stopping the ball carrier inside the 30 every once in a while. We kick it high and directional and you still do not see any Dawgs in the camera frame until the returner has run for 10 yards. We are slow slow slow on the coverage. There I feel a lot better now.

    • BenG

      CMR hinted in the last couple of weeks that he will use the freshmen on special teams this year to get more speed on the field. The new guys can pick up special teams faster than they can learn the offense. That will allow for more talent on special teams while easing them onto the field. Fingers crossed.

  6. Toom

    I love Coach Fab but his kickoff philosophy drives me nuts. Sounds like a guy who won’t admit when he’s wrong.

  7. Connor

    Do we make too much of this? I know that some people have broken down how much of an impact starting at the 40 over the 20 can have, but if you look at the stats from last year for Kick Return Defense:

    http://web1.ncaa.org/mfb/natlRank.jsp?year=2009&rpt=IA_teamkoreturndef&site=org&div=IA&dest=O

    it doesn’t seem like being good at it is really all that important. Behind UGA last year in terms of average yards given up per kick were, Florida, Utah, Texas, Oklahoma and Alabama. In others words, last years final top 5. Some of that is because those teams scored a lot so they were kicking off that much more, but maybe that was our problem as well. We had one of our more prolific offenses and had to kick off a lot. I’d love for us to be better at it, but I don’t think improving that stat will make a huge difference by itself.

    • That stat only tells you how much return yardage your special teams yielded on average… not what yard line the ball was returned to.

      • Connor

        Good point. I looked back at the post at the UGA sports blog and Robinson’s post, they are much more comprehensive. The biggest take aways I saw were: UK and USC were by far the best kick off teams, UGA and ARK were the worst, and UF and Bama were right in the middle. As the poster there noted, combined with everything else it hurt, but I still don’t think it’s a make or break stat. I’d like to see us improve, but being merely average is probably good enough.

      • Kevin

        Nor do those stats tell you how much momentum is lost when kicking it OOB at a crucial point in the game, as evidenced in 2009.

  8. jferg

    What keeps us from lining up the kicker on one side of the field, as far as he’s allowed to go, and kicking it far down that same side? You would still get the advantage of the shortest route to a touchback is a direct route…and if it isn’t kicked purely, you have an all-world directional kick that lands inside the 10 near a corner.

    However, someone smarter than me please chime in….but if a team knows UGA will kick it short and to the right every time….can’t you plan a fairly strong return based on absolute certainty of where the kickoff will land? I think there could a small amount of value in making the return team actually play the ball and guess “where” that ball might be going from kick to kick. Our team will know because our kicker can call out “left” or “right”. Like above poster said….middle-school style.