I have to thank Seth Emerson for this timely article, because it hits on my second big concern for the Kentucky game. The run defense sucked most of the oxygen out of the attention room, because it was indeed epically bad, but Georgia lost last week because it didn’t play the game it had played well throughout the season: controlling field position and turnover margin. Those are areas where the Dawgs need to get back on track to win in Lexington.
And, honestly, I don’t know how sure I should be of success in either area. With regard to turnover margin, it’s not that Georgia is suddenly lousy – the team is still first in the conference at plus-13 – as much as it is that the ‘Cats are no slouch themselves. Kentucky is third in the SEC, with a t/o margin of plus-eight. Ranked second in the conference, UK’s been pretty good at forcing turnovers.
As for the rest of the field position story, judging from what I saw unfold in EverBank Field, there’s a lot to fix and not a lot of time to do it. Return game blocking flat-out stunk, as Georgia’s return men rarely had much of the field to run without facing Florida’s coverage personnel. Coverage teams were somewhat better, although Debose was able to convert one punt return into a huge gain. Morgan may disagree with the call, but he missed his only field goal attempt, which has been a common factor in both of Georgia’s losses.
And then there is the hot mess that is punting.
Coaches this week are again evaluating Collin Barber and Adam Erickson to determine the one they will call on first Saturday at Kentucky.
Neither has provided the type of answer the No. 17 Bulldogs were hoping for up until this point.
“They’ve both certainly not had the years that you would expect and certainly that they want to have,” said assistant coach John Lilly, Georgia’s co-special teams coordinator who oversees the punters. “Really, you go over the last three or four ball games and it’s been that way.”
Georgia is last in the SEC in net punting at 35.8 yards after ranking fourth last season at 39.2.
Barber is 14th in the SEC with a 39.4 punting average. He’s handled 28 of Georgia’s 37 punts this season.
Erickson, however, started at punter in the loss to Florida Saturday, punting four times in the first half for a 31.8 average and is averaging 32.7 this season while serving as a pooch punter.
In the first half against Florida, Georgia was swapping twenty yards of field position with every punt exchange. That’s unacceptable in general, but for a team that’s built on maintaining a field position advantage, it was disastrous. Kentucky isn’t as good as Florida in punting or in net punting, but in either case, it’s a damned sight better than Georgia.
Again, I don’t see how that’s something that gets fixed quickly, especially when the coaches sound like they’re running out of hope about Barber stepping up his game.
“You’re always looking for guys to compete,” Lilly said. “You’d love to have somebody in — wherever its is — somebody that’s already on campus or somebody that’s not here yet to compete because that’s just going to bring out the best in Collin or anybody else who’s here.”
If there’s one gleam of hope about this, it’s that Kentucky is last in the conference in opponent punt return yardage and mediocre in opponent kickoff return yardage. Then again, Florida is worse than UK in both categories and we saw how that worked out last weekend.
The bottom line here is nothing earth shattering. Georgia has to get back to wanting it more than the other team in every phase of the game. It remains to be seen how much of a motivator shame is.