Georgia’s not-so-special special teams

If we can step away from Bobofest ’11 for a minute, there’s an area of the team that deserves more scrutiny than it’s getting.

Going into the season, Georgia’s special teams were expected to be a team strength.  Several pundits described them as the best in the nation – and why not?  Blair Walsh and Drew Butler had already received awards for their kicking prowess.  Brandon Boykin was an electrifying kick returner.  Branden Smith turned into one of the better punt returners in the conference.  And the coverage teams ranked in the top two or three in the SEC.

Instead, 2011 brought a drop in performance on almost every front.

PUNT RETURNS
AVG TD
2010
UGA 10.62 0
OPP 5.13 0
2011
UGA 6.68 0
OPP 16.09 2

Branden Smith was Georgia’s leading returner last season.  His average yards per return was 14.3.  This season’s leading returner, Brandon Boykin, averaged 6.77 yards per return.  As for punt coverage, Georgia went from third to last in the SEC and was the only school to give up two touchdowns via punt returns.

The poor work of the return team obscured somewhat Drew Butler’s consistency.  In fact, Butler improved from third in the conference in 2010 to second this season.

KICKOFF RETURNS
AVG TD
2010
UGA 20.8 1
OPP 19.54 0
2011
UGA 22.4 0
OPP 23.47 2

Georgia’s average return improved slightly, but seemed less explosive.  For whatever reason, opponents didn’t try to avoid Boykin nearly as much.  Georgia had nine different players who fielded kickoffs in 2010.  Only three did this season.

Kickoff coverage was disastrous.  The Dawgs declined from second in the conference in 2010 to dead last this season in that department.  The two touchdowns yielded was tops in the SEC.

That’s not the whole story for kickoff coverage.  It’s even worse when you consider that Georgia’s kickers went from producing 15 touchbacks in 2010 to 24 this season.

PLACE KICKING
FG% XP%
2010
UGA 83.3 97.9
OPP 70 97.1
2011
UGA 60.6 100
OPP 81.8 90.9

Nothing but ugly there.  Georgia made 20 of 24 field goal attempts in 2010.  This year, it was 20 of 33.  That equates to a missed field goal per game.

The overall picture is disappointing, to say the least.  Special teams cost the Dawgs the South Carolina game (keep in mind that these numbers don’t take into account Ingram’s touchdown on the fake punt, because that’s treated as a running play for statistical purposes), made several wins much closer affairs than they should have been and had a dramatic impact on the momentum in the SECCG.

Some of the shortcomings can be blamed on personnel.  Walsh’s slump may seem inexplicable given his solid effort before this year, but it still happened.  And the coaches let things stagger along on the coverage units until after the many coverage debacles we saw in Jacksonville.  Some was strategic, though.  In the wake of the South Carolina game, Georgia played more and more punt safe as the season went on.  That certainly helped stop the fake punt problems, but it also limited the return game.

In any event, the staff has its work cut out for itself next season, as both Walsh and Butler will be replaced by either freshmen or walk-ons.  I guess one way to look at the future is that it can’t get any worse than the present, but given the likely high expectations Georgia will have for next year, that’s hardly good enough.

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57 Comments

Filed under Georgia Football, Stats Geek!

57 responses to “Georgia’s not-so-special special teams

  1. UGLYDAWG

    That’s pretty cut and dried. With just average special teams play Georgia would have had ten wins. But let’s not forget the execution of the onside kick against LSU…kudos for that.
    If CMR can find a way to get the STs back to, say, seventy five percent of what is normally expected, Georgia should have a little more breathing room in games next year….and if we can throw in a couple of healthy and eager tailbacks,,,,there might be a lot of breathing room. Imagine this defense with a big lead and confidence in the O and STs!
    I have confidence CMR will fix all of this before late summer 2012.

  2. SCDawg

    Keep in mind that Boykin had a couple of nifty KO returns to help keep us in the USC game, as well.

    But the numbers don’t lie. Special teams were not good this year.

  3. Derek

    Kickers can be head cases. Coverage teams need some better players. Too many walk ons. You can have a couple who do the job well but when you’ve got 4 to 5 walk ons and a bunch of freshman you are going to have issues. On the second punt return vs. LSU we couldn’t touch much less tackle mathieu. Coverage and return units are where not having 85 scholarship players shows up.

    • Tronan

      One thing that struck me last weekend was how fast and physical LSU’s STs were in the SECCG. Blocks in the back and holding aside, they were physically a cut above what we’ve been trotting out onto the field.

  4. Macallanlover

    This was the biggest surprise of the year to me. As you stated, everyone had this as a strong suit for UGA but it cost us at least one loss, possibly two, and made other games much closer than they should have been. It isn’t like the return men forgot how to run, our blocking on kick off returns was just horrid and it looked like Boykin just ran to the middle of the crowd and went down n first contact. Very odd. I hope CMR takes over Special Teams next year to emphasize the importance to the team. We simply staggered through the year of 2011 with ST.

    • Cojones

      I like the CMR suggestion. Whetherhe has the time to spare in order to lift it to our expectations is the question.

      Also, Senator, while you mentioned the punt safe ploy, no mention was made of the failed oob kicks that cost boucoups in field position for our D.

  5. Haywood Jablome

    Fire the special teams coach… oh wait, nevermind. Special teams were nothing but a big, steaming pile of dung all season.

    From what I saw, Georgia’s punt return became stale out of the fear of fake punts. Looked to my untrained eye that they played punt safe coverage and were content to either take a fair catch every time or minimal return yardage at best.

    The most disappointing thing to me for the season as it looked like there was no improvement in ST play at all during the course of the season. That falls on lack of coaching, period.

    • Zdawg

      It looks like there have been two things that have frightened our punt return unit to no end the past few years. That is fake punts and fear of roughing the punter.

      This means we rarely put pressure on the opposition and we have seen less big returns because we have been playing safe coverage. Granted I know we did get a roughing the kicker penalty in the Championship game when we were going all out nothing to loose style (you know right before we came out in the second half and played like we had something to lose…)

  6. UGLYDAWG

    I’d also like to add to my above statement, that given the handicaps mentioned above (tailback and special teams), CMR, Grantham and Bobo coached this team to the SEC championship game. Surely that is an accomplishment worthy of some praise. I don’t care if the East was down, it’s a hell of a deal to win 9 in a row. CMR handily beat the “genious of nats”, overcame spotting Florida a scary looking lead, and hammered last years national champs, with one hand tied behind his back. I’ve gotta respect that.

    • Sanford222View

      You can bump your happiness level by one. UGA won 10 games in a row.

      • UGLYDAWG

        Thanks 222! Don’t know where the 9 was coming from this morning.
        I guess maybe Coastal Carolina was a bygone thought, but Ten sounds so much better than 9 that it bumps my level by at least two.

  7. jferg

    The punt non-return this season is just mind boggling. It’s like they think there is only one way to defend against a fake punt–to keep mostly your starting defense in the game, have them stand in the ready position until the punter kicks the ball. By then, all of the cover team has ran past them.

    On the flip side, if you have 9 guys hard rushing the punter, the punt team can only react one way—keeping all of their guys in to protect the punter. Sure, those 9 guys have assignments. Two of them are to “tackle” the would be fake punt recipients, just in case. The other 7 create havoc for the punter. If we are fierce enough with our punt rush, they won’t have the opportunity to fake due to the punter being under duress–which also puts a ton of pressue on the snapper to get it right–which leads to bad snaps–which leads to blocks and shanks.

    I watched kickoff return intently, as well, this year to see what the problem was. Our front 6 guys wait to ensure a full kickoff versus onsides kick…then turn and run to a set yardage on the field. Once they arrive at said yardage, they turn around to block people. The onlly problem??? The cover team had already raced by them, so our front six stood standing to block air. Had Boykin single-handedly beat 8 of their coverage guy….there is no doubt we would have score TDs because our front six were poised for blocking the remaining contain guys, including the punishing tackler aka kickoff specialist. C’mon man! This is not hard. Analyze and fix it.

    Am I taking crazy pills or is this not as complex as our special teams coach is making it?

    • Robby

      No team in the country has been as susceptible to the fake punt as we are and have been since WVU. We always leave the side wide open, and the fix can’t be to just play standard Defense?? Insane, no one does THAT just to stop from everyone turning and running backwards while Ingram runs beside you!! Try the Middle ground coach.

      Your aggressive prescription is the tonic we need.

      • Cojones

        Remember also that many trailing behind the gunner aren’t aware if the opposing receiver has called for a fair catch or if they have to get behind him to down the punt before it goes into the end zone. That is not only tricky, but I would imagine calls for some sophistication in communication to the oncharging players. The cure won’t be perfect and can also affect our good record of downing the ball deep.

        A bit of the cure is a two-edged sword, but it certainly should be undertaken.

  8. Irishdawg

    I wrote this the other day on here, but the UGA staff should really try and get with the Falcons’ ST coaches and try and learn a few things. Atlanta has had outstanding special teams ever since Mike Smith has been there and I’m sure he would share a trick or two. (Now if the Birds could find some g*#$% pass defense, that would be nice)

    • Cojones

      A good bit of that resides not only in distance, but the altitude the punter can get. That’s why you see it in the NFL, they have drafted the kickers that can accomplish that feat. It doesn’t necessarily translate to the college kicker’s level unless the college kicker is fairly special as well.

  9. charlottedawg

    Don’t get the title of this post, i thought special teams were pretty special, granted in a ride the short bus kind of way, but that’s still special as defined by today’s standards right?

    • Cojones

      I get using players with the height and weight of that O lineman, but would imagine that height is the most important. Receivers have height. AJ demonstrated that by blocking a game-winning field goal. Would imagine those players could line up dead center and affect long field goals ( Where the kicker has to kick lower and flatter for distance) without flooding the kicker’s lane behind the line.

      Let’s don’t forget the good effort that has been spent by the fastest players that has been negated by kicker-acting flops. I can remember Butler being warned of flagging by refs while the LSU kicker plainly got away with it. There is no penalty for touching, rather it is used when a blocker blantantly makes contact during the kick and with the leg exposed underneath. That was “faked “by the LSU player who stayed balanced on one leg to incur the penalty when touched and he flopped after Rambo pulled up. It should have been a flag on Wingo, not Rambo.

  10. Russ

    For the kickers, I don’t know why we don’t ask Kevin Butler to “volunteer” one day a week to talk to the kickers and punters (obviously he must know something there, too). When we had Rex Robinson and Kevin Butler and other great kickers, we always read about how helpful it was to have Coach Hartman as a volunteer kicking coach. I think having a trained observer will help prevent little errors in technique that fester into mental cases, like Walsh obviously had this year.

    For coverage teams, we need one person in charge. If everyone is responsible for it, then no one is responsible for it, and it showed this year.

    The good thing is that because this year was such an anomaly, I’m confident that we can quickly get our special teams mojo back, at least to the point where they don’t hurt us.

  11. BCDawg97

    I understand its not the most feasible or practical, but they need to blow up the ST coverage and schemes and start over. Spurrier said something to the effect that “if they give us a look we could run the fake” so obviously there is enough tape on us that we need to go back to the drawing board. It won’t happen, but it should. And its something Richt should take a more active role in it since ADGM took away his other responsibilities. The D is fine, the O isn’t going to get overhauled at this point anyways. But you can’t keep giving up yards and scoring opportunities for punt safe formation every single time if you are worried about the fakes.

    • Cojones

      Richt’s “active” role is probably already there. If you are referring to more time from him I would imagine that’s a hard one that only Richt knows. Imagine that he balances booster speechs, game planning, HC administration duties, recruiting, etc to the breaking point. Coaching during summer is curtailed and that’s when he spends time with family, visiting troops/Bulldog fans in uniform, mission work and other activity time that is prohibited from being used for coaching, recruiting, etc.

      That’s a tough one to put moreso on his back when he already is overall responsible for the Special Teams as HC. I’m sure he is quite active in planning the remedy he thought had already been put into place this past year.

      The players also play a big role and have criticized each other for “turning sideways” to get out of being blocked and not performing as they had been taught. It did improve for a few games when LBs and others got involved, but failed on punt returns for the LSU game. Downing the ball deep worked quite well in the first half due to players like Sailors. We need to improve while retaining the good parts and there were many, it’s just that the disappointing plays take center stage and skew our appreciation. That’s normal and affects us all.

  12. AlphaDawg

    Could the KO and Punt Return issues be depth? LSU has it in spades in all 3 areas of the game. Most of their dynamic playmakers are SO(Reid, Blue, Mathieu, Ware, Ford, Wingo, Montgomery, Brocker, Williford). When they need a break a JR or SR replaces them. When our starter need a break we only have less experinced players as replacements. Since UF has similiar depth issues I wonder if they had similiar declines in ST this year?

    • Chuck

      Nail. Head. I think this is another area where depth of talent hurts us. I recognize that we need to have some studs out there, but it would be nice to have someone “almost” as good as Ogletree out there instead of risking injury to a key guy.

      • Cojones

        Ogletree was in on a few kickoffs Didn’t catch all the players, but Rambo and Smith have been out ther as well. The depth suggestion is good and has been partially implemented using starting players, but you would think that a highly-trained group whose sole responsibility is kick coverage could get the job done. Else, how could they make the coverage team?

        While experienced depth is a factor, something tells me the suggestion that we are being outcoached by other teams picking up tells is a good part of the problem also. Just like a good D changes it’s look when the ball is snapped, I think disguised coverage can do the same.

  13. 4th & Short

    Then again, Alabama’s special teams stink, and they’re playing for the National Championship. Alabama is great at running the ball, and has a great defense. That’s all you need to get to the National Championship.

  14. And remember, if it weren’t for Butler’s tackle on the blocked punt at Vandy, this would have been a post about how, despite a lot of positives on offense and especially defense, horrid special teams got Mark Richt fired.

  15. AusDawg85

    I blame Bobo. If it’s not his stupid play-calling that forces us to punt, then it’s his balanced offense that gets us into scoring position. Either way, it puts pressure on the ST unit which isn’t fair.

  16. Mayor of Dawgtown

    I do not want this to come out sounding negative. This is intended to be constructive criticism. If you do not have a coach responsible for overall special teams play then this is what you get. The teams with the best special teams have that. To some coaches, this is so important (after all it is roughly 1/3 of the game) that they do that function themselves (i.e. Frank Beamer and Urban Myer). CMR needs to become the special teams coordinator himself.

    • Dog in Fla

      “CMR needs to become the special teams coordinator himself.”

      The only difference, and it’s very slight, is that Beamer and Irvin know something about how to coach and coordinate special teams. The likelihood of Mark becoming Warren Belin 2.0 is slim to none.

      • Mayor of Dawgtown

        CMR is a smart guy. He’ll learn how to do it right. The problem now is that the inmates are running the asylum.

        • Dog in Fla

          He is a very smart guy. Which makes it hard to understand why some aspects of our special teams have a case of the derps.

  17. I’ll say a couple of things related to special teams:
    1) We don’t block kicks any more. The Boss rule about jumping and the rugby-style punt negated our ability to block kicks.
    2) The spread formation on punts hurts a team’s ability to return punts if players stay in their lanes and hustle.
    3) Our susceptibility to fake punts has been related to scheme. When we set up a return, everyone would turn and run to set up the wall instead of using 3 guys to control a potential run and the gunners to prevent the pass. You never see a fake punt in the NFL because the return team is drilled on what to do and not do to confirm the ball is kicked.
    4) The 20-hour week probably hurts the special teams more than anything because you don’t have enough time to put in a special teams game plan and to work on responsibilities for multiple scenarios except in the preseason when the rules don’t apply.
    5) Butler can kick the ball out of the building, but if you kick it down the middle where your defenders have to cover the entire field, you will have a breakdown eventually.

  18. make the d*mn change already

    We need a Special Teams coach. End of story.

  19. SCDAWG

    Why don’t we have a f*cking ST Coach?!? How many teams operating on our level in a league like the SECOND don’t have a ST Coach?!? It’s insanity! It’s inexplicable and inexcusable!

  20. adam

    Special teams reall hurt us all year.

    I feel like some of it was an attitude problem. Always seemed like e were content not getting blocks or good punt returns as long as didn’t give up the fake. I can’t even begin to explain our kickoff issues. Discipline, talent, technique… SOMETHING was lacking pretty badly.

    It is a little unfair that you will call out special teams for costing us the USC game while he offense’s mistakes hurt us even more. And the games that became scarier because of STs errors (Flordia, Ole Miss, Vandy) were also games where the offense failed us and/of disappeared for long stretches.

    I don’t want this to sound like my life’s quest is to get rid of Bobo. I dont think I had really said much about here until this week. But the offense shouldn’t get a pass. STs were terrible and fixing them should probably be priority 1.

    But we could improve on offense. Everything you charged STs with doing (losing the South Carolina game, making other games closer than they should’ve been, killing momentum) could also be said about the offense. Maybe it’s easier to fix special teams. I hope we make some big improvements there. It’s no coincidence that the best teams ever had great ST play.

    • Adam, I definitely have a problem with some of the offense’s play at times this year. The jury is still out on whether Bobo can be a championship-caliber offensive strategist. I differ with your opinion on SC game. Offensive mistakes and special teams breakdowns (fake punt & missed FG) together cost us that game. Even with the turnovers, we scored 40+ points, which should be chalked up as a win. I also disagree with the Vandy comment. We scored 30+ in that game which should have been plenty to beat the Commodores. Special teams kept them in the game (missed FGs & kick-off return) and almost gave them the win (blocked punt). I can’t disagree with anything else you said.

      • adam

        With regards to the Vandy game, I was referring to the fact that we were one first down away from no drama. But they couldn’t get that when we needed it.

        Though STs definitely killed us in that game.

        And I’m cool with calling the South Carolina game the fault of bkth the offense and STs. It was a team effort to blow that game.

    • Take away the Ingram touchdown, add in the missed FG and I doubt Murray is pressing at the time he has the disastrous fumble.

      Hell, if Walsh makes the FG, the game goes to overtime.

      • Cojones

        Correct, Senator, and to head for an anti-Bobo rant as a cause of Special Team failures is ludicrous. Bobo’s points have won 10-in-a-row. End of story.

        • adam

          I didn’t blame Bobo for special teams failures

          Our defense deserves the majority of the credit for our win streak, though. I don’t know how anyone could argue otherwise.

      • adam

        Take out Crowell’s fumble (not blaming that on Bobo but the offense in general) and Murray’s pick 6, and we’re not worried about the missed FG and the fake punt is just an embarrassing story.

        But either way… That’s 10 points given up/left on the field by STs and the fumbles and pick led to 21 from the offense. Murray may not have been pressing at that point if the STs hadn’t screwed up, but if the offense weren’t bleeding points to USC, then maybe that would’ve been enough to keep him from pressing.

        It was overall a collection of disastrous mistakes. I just felt like the offense made more of them. I like Murray and he’s won some games for us. But he all but lost that one by himself.

  21. Bulldog Joe

    And this…

  22. 69Dawg

    Can someone please identify the coaches that have special team assignments and the area they are suppose to coach. If an employee has the responsibly of that area and failed as badly as some of these they should get canned. CMR does not care about special teams or this would not happen. Maybe 2012 is the year he cares. He seems to be having the longest OJT of any head coach in college football. Every year he learns that another phase of the game is important. I hope he finally learns all about being a Head Coach and we can see UGA play a complete season just once before I die.

  23. I think BOBO should take the JOB as Special Team Coach, remain QB coach as well but quit as OC.

  24. shane#1

    I think the problem is coaching, more correctly, the lack there of. Someone needs to take charge. BTW, Alex Ogletree blocked 11 kicks in HS.

  25. It is very clear we have to do something to improve the special teams. What is not clear is that we have to have a ST’s coach. Things were done the same way last year and the results were pretty good. I think (hope?) that Georgia will spend a few extra periods a week this next season working on ST’s. I know that takes away from something else but as we saw it can change games. I like the idea of keeping the coaches in charge of certain areas but with Richt becoming more involved as the coordinator of the group. I think it would send the message to the whole team how important it is if he becomes more involved (granted I don’t know his actual level of involvement at this point). The idea that depth played a role in it I think is a big think too. The more depth you have the more you can use top line players on special teams because if they need a break you trust their backups to play snaps on offense/defense.