Give Mark Richt credit for forthrightness. Answering one of my immediate post-game questions, he explains what Damian Swann was doing out there on the fateful muffed punt catch:
“We were in punt safe,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said Sunday. “If you remember two years ago, they faked the punt on us somewhere around that territory about the same distance. At the time of the game…they were down 13 and the clock’s ticking. We made a great stop and called for the punt safe and when we go punt safe, he’s already on the field and we keep him in there because we’ve got experience catching those balls. That’s designed to be a fair catch anyway. We know when we’re in punt safe, we’re not going to get much of a return. It’s just a matter of fielding the ball. He’s been doing that his whole life. It just hit off his chest.”
He’s right on his history. (Vanderbilt converted a fourth-and-13 from its own 22 with a 35-yard pass play out of punt formation.) He’s right about the execution. But, still, it’s fourth-and-15 and Vanderbilt’s on its own 19-yard line. How many other coaches in the country go punt safe there?
I’m not sure I’m even being critical here. It’s fair to note that Richt’s propensity for the formation hasn’t cost the Dawgs much in field position this season – Georgia’s averaging 4.56 yards per return and its opponents are averaging 4.38 ypr – and I’m sure his mind had already clicked over to protect the lead mode at that point. It’s just strange to see how often Georgia goes punt safe and under what circumstances, especially because Richt’s shown a willingness to take chances in other facets of the special teams game. It makes me wonder if the ending to the 2006 Sugar Bowl scarred him for life.
And given what happened earlier in the game on Saturday, I’m also wondering if Georgia has a field goal safe formation. If it didn’t before, it wouldn’t surprise me if it comes up with one going forward.