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Monday, October 5, 2009

Kickoff Conundrum: Two Years of Momentum-Killing Mishaps

Let's take a trip down (bad) memory lane.

(NOTE: Before we begin our journey, you may want to read my story in today's Telegraph on the rollercoaster ride of Georgia's special teams this season.)

Now, I went back through Georgia's last 18 games looking for instances in which the Bulldogs made a big play or had momentum going in its direction, then had a disaster occur on a kickoff immediately afterward.

The following events are listed in chronological order, but please remember that this is ONLY kickoff-related problems since the start of the 2008 season that immediately followed Georgia touchdowns or started a half.

This is not a list of all of Georgia's bad kickoffs. This doesn't include the shanked punts against Georgia Tech last year, the special teams turnovers against South Carolina and Arkansas this season, the missed field goals in last year's Florida game or any of the other problems Georgia has suffered through on special teams in the past year-and-a-half.

These are examples only of problematic kickoff issues under very specific circumstances. All came either at the start of a half or following a Georgia touchdown or field goal.

Anyway, pour yourself a stiff drink and read on...

WEEK 1, 2008 vs. Georgia Southern

-- Georgia scores a touchdown with 5:55 left in the third quarter. The ensuing kickoff is returned to Southern's 47-yard line and GSU scores its first touchdown of the game 1:28 later. What had been a predictably dominant opening-week performance against a I-AA team ends with the Bulldogs allowing 21 points.

WEEK 2, 2008 vs. Central Michigan

-- Demarcus Dobbs picks off a Dan Lefevre pass late in the first half and returns it for a touchdown, breaking open what had been a relatively close game and giving Georgia a commanding 28-0 lead. The ensuing kickoff, however, goes out of bounds, giving CMU the ball at its own 40 with 1:02 left in the half. Thirty-five seconds later, they scored their first touchdown of the game.

WEEK 3, 2008 vs. South Carolina

-- Georgia's offense is sputtering, but the Bulldogs muster a field goal with 10:22 left in the second quarter to take a 3-0 lead. The Gamecocks return the ensuing kickoff 25 yards to their own 38, however, then score a touchdown 1:40 later to go up 7-3. That was the lone touchdown the Gamecocks scored in the game, and it was the best field position they had to start any drive.

WEEK 4, 2008 vs. Arizona State

-- Georgia scores its first touchdown of the game on a 9-yard run by Knowshon Moreno (you may remember him flying into the end zone) and the ensuing kickoff goes out of bounds. This time, however, the defense forces a three-and-out against the inept Sun Devils' offense.

WEEK 8, 2008 vs. LSU

-- Georgia is in command for much of the game but can't seem to put LSU away until Moreno takes a handoff and runs 68 yards for a touchdown to put the Bulldogs up 38-17. Walsh's ensuing kickoff, however, is returned 25 yards to the LSU 41. The Tigers score 1:58 later to pull back to within two touchdowns.

-- The Bulldogs once again appear to have iced the win over LSU when Darryl Gamble returns his second interception of the game for a touchdown to give Georgia a 52-31 lead late in the fourth quarter. The ensuing kickoff goes out of bounds and LSU tacks on yet another touchdown just 51 seconds later.

WEEK 9, 2008 vs. Florida

-- While the game was eventually a blowout, the first half was remarkably close. The Bulldogs booted a 35-yard field goal with 11:18 to play in the first half to pull to within 7-3. Rather than ride the momentum, however, Mark Richt calls for an on-side kick, which the Gators recover at the Georgia 41-yard line. Florida engineers a seven-play drive and scores a touchdown with 3:52 left in the half to go up 14-3 and never looked back.

WEEK 10, 2008 vs. Kentucky

-- Georgia looks dominant early, scoring touchdowns on each of its first two drives. Following the second touchdown, however, Walsh's ensuing kickoff goes out of bounds. Kentucky quickly goes 60 yards for a touchdown to make the score 14-7 in what would be a back-and-forth game the rest of the way.

-- With 13:49 remaining in the fourth quarter, Georgia scores on a Moreno touchdown to finally regain the lead 35-31 in a game that was way too close for comfort. Walsh's ensuing kickoff, however, was returned 96 yards all the way to the Georgia 4-yard line. Three plays later the Wildcats punched in the score to retake the lead 38-35.

WEEK 11, 2008 vs. Auburn

-- With Georgia trailing in the fourth quarter against an Auburn team with virtually no offensive firepower, A.J. Green finally gives the Bulldogs a lead and some breathing room, scoring with 8:24 to play in the game to put UGA up 17-13. The ensuing kickoff goes out of bounds, but the defense steps up and forces a punt.

WEEK 12, 2008 vs. Georgia Tech

-- Georgia jumps out to an early 7-0 lead, scoring on its first drive of the game. Walsh's ensuing kickoff goes out of bounds. The defense holds, however, after Georgia Tech goes for it on a fourth-and-2 from the Bulldogs' 33 and Josh Nesbitt's pass falls incomplete.

-- Georgia appears to take a commanding 28-12 lead with just 37 seconds left in the first half when Matthew Stafford hits Mohamed Massaquoi for a 3-yard touchdown. The ensuing kickoff goes out of bounds, but the Bulldogs are bailed out when Nesbitt throws an interception as time expires in the half.

-- The momentum of the interception didn't last long. Walsh's kickoff to open the second half goes out of bounds. Johnathan Dwyer runs 60 yards for a touchdown on the next play, making what looked like a blowout a one-score game.

-- With 4:04 left in the game, Stafford wraps up a monster performance, hitting Green for a 12-yard touchdown to pull Georgia to within three, 45-42. Roddy Jones returned the ensuing kickoff 37 yards to the Tech 44-yard line, however, and the Yellow Jackets ran seven more plays and took the clock down to zero, never giving the Bulldogs' offense another chance to cap the comeback.

BOWL GAME, 2008 vs. Michigan State

-- A close game finally broke open with nine seconds remaining in the third quarter when Stafford connected with Aron White for a touchdown, giving Georgia a 17-6 lead. Walsh's ensuing kickoff sailed out of bounds, setting MSU up at its own 40. While the Bulldogs' defense held firm and forced a punt, the bad kickoff helped swing field position. Georgia's next drive ended with a punt from its own 7-yard line and the Spartans got the ball back at their own 46. MSU scored on that drive to pull to within 17-12 -- their only touchdown of the game.

WEEK 1, 2009 vs. Oklahoma State

-- Georgia's offense had looked awful, but the defense kept the game close and the Bulldogs headed out for the second half trailing by just three. Walsh's opening kickoff, however, is returned 74 yards by Perrish Cox to give Oklahoma State the ball at the Georgia 24 to start its drive. Zac Robinson capped the drive with a 1-yard dive into the end zone to put the Cowboys up 17-7 -- effectively slamming the door on the listless Bulldogs.

WEEK 2, 2009 vs. South Carolina

-- In a game that had been back-and-forth throughout the first half, the Bulldogs finally seemed to put things out of reach when Michael Moore scored on a four-yard pass from Joe Cox with 9:04 left in the third quarter, giving Georgia a 38-23 lead. Chris Culliver returned the ensuing kickoff 57 yards to the Georgia 43, however, and the Gamecocks eventually booted a field goal on the drive.

WEEK 3, 2009 vs. Arkansas

-- Arkansas got off to a fast start, but Georgia answered with a 21-yard TD reception by White to tie the game at 7 with 9:56 left in the first quarter. Cobi Hamilton returned the ensuing kickoff 50 yards, however, setting the Razorbacks up with the ball at the Georgia 48. Ryan Mallett threw a touchdown on the next play to regain the lead, 14-7.

-- Tavarres King's 50-yard touchdown reception with 7:51 left in the third quarter gives Georgia a 34-28 lead. The ensuing kickoff goes out of bounds and five plays later Arkansas is back in the end zone and back in the lead, 35-34.

-- Georgia scores on Cox's fifth touchdown pass of the game with 10:46 left to play in the game and goes up 49-38. The ensuing kickoff sails out of bounds and Arkansas kicks a field goal eight plays later.

WEEK 5, 2009 vs. LSU

-- After doing absolutely nothing offensively for the better part of three quarters, Georgia scores to take a 7-6 lead with 14:15 left to play in the game. Trindon Holliday returns the ensuing kickoff 49 yards and LSU takes over at Georgia's 46. The Bulldogs catch a break, however, when the refs throw a personal foul flag on the Tigers, moving them back 15 yards. The drive ended with a punt.

-- Do I really need to take us through this one again? Georgia scores what may well have been one of the most memorable touchdowns of the Mark Richt era when A.J. Green hauls in a go-ahead score with 1:09 to play in the game. An absurd flag for excessive celebration flies in, icing on the cake of what so many Georgia fans must have already seen coming at this point.

Despite all the problems on kickoffs that we've just mentioned, Jon Fabris and the Georgia kickoff team decide it's time to get fancy. They break the huddle and immediately sprint to the line, where Walsh boots a kick straight down the middle of the field that's fielded by Holliday at the LSU 17-yard line. The coverage is a disaster, and Holliday bolts 40 yards to the Georgia 43. Adding insult to injury, Georgia is flagged for an illegal formation because it sent just three players to one side of the kicker when it broke the huddle. That moves the ball to the Bulldogs' 35, meaning the Tigers took over already in field-goal range for kicker Josh Jasper, who had connected from 52 yards out just two weeks earlier. As it turned out, it didn't matter when Charles Scott rumbled 33 yards for a the winning touchdown two plays later.

Rubbing it in a bit, LSU was flagged for the same infraction as Georgia after its touchdown, but had little trouble covering its kickoff.

----

By my count, that's 22 miscues on kickoffs following either crucial Georgia scores or to start a half in just the past 18 games. Twenty-two! In 18 games! Loud noises!

What could possibly cause such a trend?

Surely there are issues with the game plan on kickoffs.

Surely there are issues with the personnel being used on kickoffs.

Surely there are some issues with Blair Walsh's ability to properly execute the types of kickoffs he is asked to make.

Surely there are some serious issues with concentration, given that both the special teams and, in many cases, the defense immediately collapsed following such important momentum boosts created by the offense.

Surely there are issues in terms of preparation, execution, and recognition.

Surely the coaches must know this.

And yet it happens game after game after game for two straight years.

ADDENDUM: I wasn't paying close enough attention on Blair's missed 37-yard field goal, but I got this email from Bill A.: "That whole play was hurried because UGA didn't seem to know who was on its' FG team. It looked like a fire drill with players running on and off the field with the play clock evaporating. We barely beat the 40-second clock."

Remember the debacle of a field goal at the end of the first half in Arkansas when the coaching staff rushed the field-goal team onto the field rather than simply have Cox spike the football on first down to give the unit a chance to get properly set?

And here's what Nick Williams, who is on the kick coverage team, told me about the illegal formation on the kickoff against LSU: “We know the rules, but guys sometimes don’t get a call or something and just lined up wrong.” This on the most crucial special teams play of the game -- and maybe of Georgia's season so far.

I'm all for giving Holliday some credit. He deserves it. He's a heck of a kick returner. But coming into this game, LSU ranked 117th in the nation in return average, and I think it's fair to wonder why Georgia couldn't do what Mississippi State and Louisiana-Lafayette could.

The preparation just seems bush league. Maybe I'm missing something, but I can't figure it out, and the coaching staff doesn't seem to want to give a better explanation.

ADDENDUM No. 2: Got this great comment from an anonymous poster, who obviously watched the replay closely... "Check the replay of the final two kickoffs.

"Georgia had three walk ons and a backup quarterback covering the kick from a huddle formation. LSU fields the ball on the 17 and no Georgia player enters the picture until the returner had already returned the ball 15 yards to the 32.

"LSU had 10 first and second team defenders covering the kick and lining up in their lanes. Georgia fields the kick on the 22 and the first LSU player enters the picture when the returner reaches the 26.

"Yep. It must have been the wind."

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

They give a scholarship to a guy out of a JC to kick the ball out of the endzone....Kid is getting a free ride at UGA to sit on the pine because he can't beat out the guy who kicks it out of bounds.

Crazy. I bet there are guys on the team who can kick the ball as well that are not kickers.

It's a nutty situation.

Silver Dawg said...

Once again, Sir David, your pointed/revealing walk down memory lane further supports the flawed theory and practice of special team's coaching.

I hope the coaching staff reads your blog, especially today.

Damn good work, Sir David.

David Basham said...

For Pete's sake, you MUST call Coach Richt out on Georgia's lousy special teams play during this week's press conference. Your numbers simply do not lie, and Richt's pat answers just aren't acceptable anymore.

Coach Fabris said...

"we're doing everything we can.....and please stop calling me Shirley!"

318Dawg said...

Thanks for those sobering stats. My expectations weren't too high going into the season. But the way this team is playing is very disheartening as a fan. Seems to be a lot of going through the motions on special teams. When the ball doesn't sail out of bounds, the coverage tends to be awful. There is never any punt rush. Which could be accepted if we set up for great punt returns. However, we have a backup QB fair catching punts on the oppenents 40. It is past time for Richt to hold his assistants to higher accountability. It is one thing to lose when you play hard, it's totally different if you look like a 2-A high school in several key aspects of the game.

Josh said...

can the richt honeymoon please come to an end? he HAS to give answers as to why we repeatedly shoot ourselves in the foot on kick coverage. he just HAS to answer for this. EVERYBODY knows it's a huge liability for us and we're just ignorant fans who don't understand the game of football. richt just appears to not give a damn. but hey, at least he's a super duper nice guy!!!!!

Anonymous said...

I think I see a trend there.

The kick goes out of bounds
The kick goes out of bounds
Walsh's kick goes out of bounds
Walsh kicks the ball out of bounds
The kick goes out of bounds
Out of bounds
Out of bounds

Now, I don't want to say directional kicking is still the stupidest idea in the history of the world, but...

Anonymous said...

I don't usually make comments, but this piece is an excellent diatribe of nearly every Georgia fan's feelings. Can you make sure and forward this to Damon Evans, Mark Richt and the Georgia Athletic Board.

One thing. This is not Blair Walsh's fault! This is our Special Teams Staff. What about our trust of our punt Returners? If Prince can't catch it, find someone who can.
Aladawg

SB said...

To change subjects for a sec...I was embarrassed by the lack of crowd noise on Sat. I've been to LSU, Neyland and the like many times and they give their defense a hell of a lot more help than Dawg fans gave on Sat. I was in 302 and felt like I was at a funeral. If you want to sit in silence, give your tickets to people who actually want to be there and watch it from your damn couch.

Anonymous said...

I agree this is bad, but I have really watched kick offs and most try to land the ball just shy of the goal. Only one kick off I remember by LSU sailed out of the endzone. The personnel issue is the key, not the kicking. Most kickers cannot do that all the time.
David, did you find out when the decided to burn the redshirt on Easley?
The key to the game was the OL was beat most of the time.
I was at the game and a bunch of our fans are idiots! Fire this fire that... We love our Dawgs, but we always seem to be in a situation where we cannot reload and have the talent ready to prevent a drop off year to year. Next year another rookie QB and our entire DL goes to the NFL. When will be put it all together?

We are the only major team that uses walk ons for special teams. UF, LSU, Alabama all put their best players in on special teams. Why not us?

HiAltDawg said...

While not a big fan of the def. cord., I find it troubling that a program that claimed it wanted to review everything this past off-season still struggles in the kicking game. David, you just listed an entire season, not a game, of performances on Special Teams that reflect negatively on the program's talent and past performances. Most coaches say fans and reporters "don't know anything," but most people earning a salary that provides them the finances to buy UGA tickets would never allow the pattern you documented in their workplace. I find it hard to believe making a change at the Special Teams coaching position is difficult; Def. Cord. yes, but Special Teams Coach--c'mon. I think a change at that level could be made in season. When does survival of the organism kick in and address this for CMR?

Anonymous said...

Agree,

If you are an opposing special teams coach, how many of our players do you really need to block on kickoff returns?

I would say:

Curran,
Gamble,
Rambo,
Prince Miller, and
Nick Williams.

That's it.

Neither Munzenmaier, Logan Gray, Walsh, or any of the scout team walkons are going to catch Holliday.

It is a mismatch-by-choice by our coaching staff.

This isn't pee-wee ball where you have to make all the mammas and daddies happy.

If the head coach doesn't step up and demand a change this week, he will validate Coach Dooley's concern that he is too nice-a-guy for this job.

Anonymous said...

To be fair, WillieMart has stepped up his game these past two weeks. No, these aren't the '01 Rams we're playing, but the schemes have been fine.

Anonymous said...

Following up on your comment about how long it took us to get down the field on our final kickoff and how quickly LSU seemed to get down the field on their final kickoff, if you pause the film at the moment Walsh makes contact on our final kickoff, there are 10 Bulldogs in the picture. One is Walsh. Of the other nine, EIGHT are a full five yards behind the LOS. FIVE full yards. Prince Miller is actually 8 full yards behind the LOS at the point of contact. Logan Gray is 7 full yards behind the LOS at the point of contact. I can sort of understand wanting to be extra careful about not drawing an off-sides penalty here (although you'd think you'd also be extra careful about not lining up incorrectly, so who knows), but given how fast the ball is going and how fast Holliday is, giving them an extra 5-8 yard head start had to factor into the horrid coverage on that return imo.

Also, with the uneven set, you have to figure we were planning a directional kick and setting up coverage based on that. Note that Holliday caught the ball between the hash marks. Hey, at least it didn't go out of bounds. :sigh:

On the whole, it was just a horribly, horribly executed kickoff at a moment when we needed people to settle down, focus on their jobs, and execute.

Treedawg said...

David,

I would like to see how many special teams blunders since the Sugar bowl vs. West Virginia we can come up with.

Teams faking punts and converting, Missing Field goals, and of course our kick off troubles.

It seems to me I would make more of a emphasis on special teams, whether that is hiring a new sp. teams cordnator or Richt taking it over and handling all by himself like Beamer. I know everyone in the Bulldawg nation hates Willie's coaching philosphy, me included, but everytime the diefense does not make a play it b/c they are in a bad position.

Bottom Line is this. LSU had the field position in the entire first half, and controlled the game. UGA had the field position in the 2nd half and primarly controlled the entire 2nd half except for one drive.

Flipping the field is so important in football in general. One of the biggest plays in the game was the Interception and then what happened after the interception, and then Cox missing AJ on the post. But college football is about field position, I don't know but one drive all year a team went 80 yrds and stuck it in the end zone!

Also I believe that Bobo philosophy is not bad, you have got to be able to run the football period, does not matter if it does not work, Got to be able to hold the linebackers in for play action and make them respect the run. We put Ealy in there and look what happens the linebackers play run and then Charles splits the safety's for a big play. We have got to be able to run the ball period!

Bottom line is this, specail teams have got to get better. Whether it is stopping a fake punt(SC this yr), getting better ko cvg., or making a play happen in the return game Special Teams have to improve! We have got to win the field position battle!

Watson said...

LeFevour

Anonymous said...

Just hire a damn special teams coach already whose sole purpose is to work on special teams.

Anonymous said...

They also nearly missed picking up the fake kick when LSU had lone man near their sideline. Boykin and others barely saw him in time... were any coaches yelling warnings? You're not expecting fakes from Les Miles, the biggest riverboat gambler in the NCAA?

Special teams coord. is one of several changes needed, but should be easiest to fix.

Texas_Dawg said...

We are the only major team that uses walk ons for special teams. UF, LSU, Alabama all put their best players in on special teams. Why not us?

Um, that is just false.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0VFIa1jYKQI

James Smith
John Jones
Cade Holliday
Moses Jenkins
Justin Williams…

(And Butch Rowley recovered the onside kick against us last year...)

Fire Urban Meyer, right?

Anonymous said...

Look at the numbers. We line 8 including the kicker on the right side and 3 on the left. Holliday obviously is going to return it up the left side with those numbers. It's LSU's 6 blockers against our 3 defenders. We lose that battle EVERY time.