Spence and I had a lengthy email discussion yesterday that led to me review Georgia’s special teams stats. Some of what I learned may surprise you.
To begin with, I’d summarize the general impression of the performance of its special teams this season as (1) great from Blankenship, outside of the South Carolina game; (2) inconsistent from Camarda; (3) modest, albeit somewhat limited, work from Georgia’s coverage teams; (4) very poor from both return teams.
Brian Fremeau tracks special teams performance and here’s what he says about Georgia’s: (1) 17th overall; (2) 8th in field goal efficiency; (3) 111th in kick return efficiency; (4) 86th in punt return efficiency. Kickoff coverage efficiency is a mediocre 74th and punt coverage efficiency is a somewhat better 49th.
Those stats, in other words, reasonably track what we’ve seen on the field.
By the way, the one truly surprising stat that Brian’s numbers don’t hint at is what Camarda’s done. Believe it or not, Georgia is fourth nationally in punting average, at 47.82. It’s also 28th in opponents’ punt return yardage per game. Those are both somewhat tempered by the fact that the Dawgs don’t punt very much and have only allowed four returns in seven games.
Okay, so there’s all that. The question is, how much have Georgia’s special teams affected the games? From an advanced stats point of view, here’s what Fremeau’s numbers show, game by game (against FCS opposition only):
It’s the last four rows you want to review. The story they tell is that Blankenship’s kickoff work has been great, except for the Kentucky game, when it was almost as bad as the first five games combined were good; that kickoff returns have been a black hole for almost the entire season; that, outside of his work against Notre Dame, Camarda’s been solid (in fact, you could say he’s shown serious improvement in his last two games); and that the punt return game has provided little, if any, support.
For all the bitching about Coley, then, it seems that Fountain has managed to stay below the radar, even though his area has contributed less to the season than has either the offense or defense. Indeed, that lack of support should be magnified as Georgia embraced a field position game against Kentucky (a contributing factor, I would say, to the offense’s poor showing in the first half). It was also a factor, although certainly not the only one, as to why all the yardage Georgia racked up against South Carolina didn’t translate into many points.
One other strange thing worth noting here is that, contrary to what you might expect, Georgia’s biggest red flag when it comes to scoring efficiency is that it’s been terrible producing points when starting from a short field (defined as outside its own 40-yard line) — 103rd — where you’d think that poor special teams play would have less effect in that setting.
All told, what this seems to suggest is that while special teams play hasn’t cost the Dawgs a game yet, it’s hard to point to a single game where the net result has led to a positive effect on the outcome. In fact, if there’s a common thread throughout, it’s overall inconsistency. As we’ve heard him speak out decisively about the offense and defense this week, I’d love to hear if Kirby has a take on this part of the team’s performance.