You may have heard that the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel just passed several new rules, the most prominent of which allows the receiving team to fair catch a kickoff inside the 25-yard line and have it result in a touchback.
This, of course, means the end of directional kicking as we know it (Jon Fabris would be turning in his grave, if he were in one, figuratively speaking).
Georgia kicker Rodrigo Blankenship ranked second in the SEC and eighth nationally in touchback percentage last season at 71.3 percent (67 of 94). The national average was 42.4 percent, according to SI.com.
The Bulldogs ranked fourth in the SEC in kickoff return defense at 19.5.
“It could minimize the value of a good kicker,” Smart said. “If your kicker kicks a 4.4 (second) hang (time) to the 5-yard line, that’s a huge weapon because you couldn’t fair catch it. …It could take the weapon away. But we never told Rodrigo to kick it high and short. We told him to kick it out of the end zone. That’s what we want him to do.”
Just when Georgia gets its collective shit together on kickoff coverage… and on the receiving side?
Smart was asked if the rule change will alter Georgia’s approach.
“It’s not going to change anything,” Smart said. “We’re going to prepare for it and higher, shorter kicks will be fair caught. Kicks that we don’t think we can get to the 25, we’ll be better off fair catching. A lot of it depends on what type kicker you’re facing.”
And type of coverage team, too. Which makes me wonder if there will be any change in special teams philosophy. When the odds of actually having to cover a kick return decrease dramatically — and you have to think that 42.4% national average for touchbacks is about to go way up — does that affect your approach to constructing and coaching kickoff return teams?