(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."