Monday, September 23, 2013

Kickoffs - Coach Richt's mantle of insanity

Georgia ranks 95th nationally in touchback percentage this season. When you consider that Oregon is 103rd, Florida State 105th and Alabama is 119th, well...kicking the ball through the endzone obviously doesn't directly correlate to wins-losses. But, there's never been a team, in the history of tackle football, that has given up a touchdown when they were awarded a touchback. Ever. (h/t Old Dawg)

And were it not for our famed hedges, North Texas' Brelan Chancellor (a kid I tried to warn Richt et al. about a good week before the game) would still be running.

Look, issues with kickoffs is something I've been addressing here since this blog was a baby. To quote Rex Robinson, who was gracious enough to help us understand just what the hell a directional kick was back in '09:
It's like trying to hit a 7 iron with the height of a 9 iron. It's possible, but it's tough to do consistently well.
Which is why we had a great kicker in Blair Walsh, that by the time he was a senior in Athens ended up struggling to manage his duties consistently. You can also throw Brandon Coutu in there as well; another great kicker that struggled the longer he matriculated.

But there's a distinct, historical difference between those two kickers. Coutu was around to see the rule changes that have had a profound impact on kickoffs. In 2007 the NCAA moved the kickoff back to the 30 yard line and they also lowered the tee an inch. Back when kickers were teeing it up high and letting em fly from the thirty-five, directional kicking wasn't the eye sore that it is today.

What's more, many Georgia fans thought former defensive ends and kickoff coverage coach Jon Fabris was the one holding onto the idea of directional kicking. When he was let go after the 2010 season, we figured the art of the perfect kickoff - in the corner of the playing field, just between the one and the one-half yard line, right against the sideline, just outside the goalline's orange marker, after having travelled in the air a minimum of 5.2867 seconds - would leave with him.

But no, clearly this is Coach Richt's baby. He's steadfastly pounded his head against this wall of ignorance for years. Legend has it he went to Poland California to get a kicker who could kick it through the endzone. And yet a quick look at Brandon Bogatay's stats shows that he had a whopping total of 28 kickoffs in three seasons for Georgia, only eight of which were touchbacks. But hey, I hear he really appreciated the scholarship.

So Richt has helped ruin the distances of kickers from around the globe. Quite an accomplishment. No wonder we shifted nervously in our seats when Richt mentioned (albeit casually) he might just take over the duties of special teams coaching himself.

So where are we now? Well, for one, effective last season, the NCAA has moved kickoffs back to the 35. What's more is the touchback on kickoffs moves the ball out to the 25 instead of the 20. And this was done to encourage the receiving team to take a knee whenever they get the chance. Still, we're not going to play right into their hand when we can run the risk and live life on the edge!

Secondly, we have a sophomore kicker that Richt loves in Marshall Morgan (who had one of the strongest legs in the country while being recruited out of Fort Lauderdale) and yet his average kickoff has dropped three yards from last year and his touchback percentage has gone down as well. Sure, those are based on just one game this season compared to last. But do you remember Morgan's first game as a freshman? In the season opener last year against Buffalo he had seven kickoffs that averaged 65 yards! Five of them went for touchbacks!! That's putting the ball - at worst!! - right at the goalline.

But the rest of the season he had just nine more touchbacks while sharing duties with Jamie Lindley. Still, there was reason to believe we were transitioning to a team that booms it as deep as possible and aiming for a touchback each time instead of that perfect, directional kick that is placed on the half-yard line by God's own hand. Lindley had five touchbacks as late as the Tech game. In between is a mixture of brief moments of brilliance and assorted failures while living in a sea of unenlightenment.

Where are we now? Light years behind the development of our own opponents.

Instead of seeing a kicker trot out onto the field with the understanding that he's been asked to do something that comes completely natural (Kick it as hard and as deep as you can!), we're seeing our kickoff coverage arrange the chairs on the deck of the boat. AGAINST NORTH TEXAS!!

Saturday LSU will come into town determined to drive the ball as deep as possible and spare the coverage team the hassle of a return two out of three times they kick it off. At the same time they'll be thwarting any risk to injury each time a Georgia player kneels in the endzone. Amazing are the advances in tackle football strategy! Meanwhile we'll tell Morgan "Hey, kick it here and then next time we'll kick it there. After that we might kick it deep depending on how things are going." And then the postgame at least stands a chance of sounding like this past Saturday.
“We kicked it left and the guy bounced out right,” Morgan said. “I saw him, but the No. 1 returner in the nation with open space vs. a kicker. I mean, he’s going to take it I guess.”
I guess. I mean it makes no sense to me whatsoever. It hasn't in years. I have a headache, and Richt must have stock in Excedrin.