Time to turn the page from last weekend’s debacle. (As Georgia fans, page turning is something we excel at, based on experience.) The SEC never sleeps and now Georgia plays another East team in hopes of getting back on track, or at least not losing any more ground to Florida.
Tennessee, as you’ve no doubt heard by now, is in fairly desperate straits itself. As Tony Barnhart tells it,
Tennessee’s players certainly were expecting more out of this season. Let us not forget there are seven games left. And let us also remember that Tennessee closed with a 4-1 record last season to make it to a bowl. If the Vols lose to Georgia and Alabama, they’ll be 2-5 with very little margin for error.
On paper, the key to Georgia’s success is pretty obvious: run the ball and stop the run. The Vols had an awful time handing Arkansas’ rushing attack last week, giving up 275 yards on the ground, and Josh Dobbs has done a lot more damage with his feet than with his arm this season.
As we know, though, Georgia and paper don’t always see eye to eye.
Thinking about what concerns me this week, my mind wandered back to Georgia’s last trip to Checkerboardland. And it’s interesting, perhaps even a little scary, to see a couple of common themes in play. First of all, there’s Booch, who managed to combine game management issues with keeping his young team’s collective head in the game when things look like they were slipping away.
But here’s the bigger thing:
I’d really, really like to quit typing that special teams were a mixed bag. But damn it, Dawgs, I need a little help here. The 56-yarder, a stadium record, was remarkable, and kudos to Morgan for drilling the winner as visions of the Michigan State fiasco flashed through my head. But the clanger to end the first drive of the second half was the psychological turning point of the game. And there simply is no excuse for a top ten team giving up two blocked punts for touchdowns in five games. Yes, somebody whiffed on the protection, but I’m also coming around to the idea that Barber is a little too deliberate with his punts. In any event, you can bet that every coach facing Georgia for the rest of the season will be playing for the block when the Dawgs are punting from inside their 20.
Lather, rinse and repeat.
Georgia’s most glaring special teams breakdown Saturday turned into a momentum-building blocked punt for touchdown by Alabama.
It was hardly the only area in the kicking game where the Bulldogs didn’t measure up in the 38-10 trouncing by the Crimson Tide.
Georgia had a 28.3 net punt average with two going into the end zone on touchbacks instead of being downed deep in Tide territory. The Bulldogs averaged a paltry 1.5 yards on punt returns and 17.8 yards on kick returns.
As the Bulldogs hit the midpoint of the season Saturday at Tennessee, their special teams are sagging in the national rankings and they may be without their most explosive player — punt returner Isaiah McKenzie — due to a hamstring injury.
Georgia ranks last in the nation in kick returns at 14.0 yards per game, 119th of 127 teams in net punting at 32.2, 87th in punt coverage at 9.89 and 85th in kickoff coverage at 22.0.
It’s been a relatively quiet story in comparison with everyone’s frustration over the offense, but the plain reality is that Georgia’s special teams have been a major disappointment so far this season. I will grant you that it’s reasonable to expect a few bumps in the road as Richt has made a concerted effort to load the coverage and return teams with freshman talent, but there weren’t any green players involved in the punt block. Reggie Davis, who evidently believes he’s this close to breaking one, despite averaging less than 18 yards a kickoff return against Alabama, isn’t a newbie, either.
What makes this especially troubling is that special teams is one area in which Tennessee excels.
Richt pointed out Tennessee is “by far” the best team on specials teams Georgia will have played up to now including No. 1 in kickoff returns (37.9 average) and No 6 in net punting (42.7).
“When you watch the film you can see why,” Richt said.
Special teams play gave the Vols life in 2013 and you have to be concerned about history repeating. Unfortunately, Georgia won’t have Aaron Murray available to pull its nuts out of the fire this time.