Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Clempson preview - special teams

In oddsmaking parlance, home team gets three points. And that was the exact difference last season in Death Valley. Why? Well, special teams. Clemson was sound. Georgia was a train wreck. Yes, unless you were a Georgia fan lucky enough to be under a rock at the time, you'll recall what happened as we lined up to tie the game at 31 late in the 3rd quarter (cue 2:50 mark).

But it wasn't just having a new long snapper, new holder and a backup kicker that made a difference in the outcome. Last season's opener went a long way toward a few months of shedding light on a phase of the game Richt had lost touch with in recent years. No longer aggressive in the field position game. Spending as much time selecting a fair catcher of punts as a gunner on punt coverage. Not letting your placekicker aim for the back of the endzone.

via AJ Reynolds
With the turn of the calendar to 2014, a new emphasis was put into special teams. On Saturday we should get an early indication as to if this new emphasis can translate into results such as touchbacks, punt returns, better kick coverage, better punt protection.

Having Marshall Morgan in this rematch against Clemson is huge. He's a legitimate Groza Award candidate after an amazing sophomore season. And now he says he can add plenty of touchbacks to his other placekicking stats, which could help Georgia climb out of the cellar in the SEC in terms of kick coverage.

Other things to look for:

  • Who fields punts and does the coaching staff employ them in all punt return situations? In short, is there still an arm waving specialist?
  • Also, when we do have a punt return on, do we have someone that can break a couple ankles and get that first level of separation? Think Damien Gary here.
  • How quickly are punts getting off? Sounds like Barber and Erickson are still in a tight race for the duty, but last year the time it took to get a punt off sometimes exceeded what the protection could provide. 
  • Do we have a kick returner that can get in the neighborhood of 25+ yards? Hell, even just 20+ might be enough in what could be a tight game. As a reminder, Georgia was dead last in the SEC in kick return last season.
  • For Clemson, they'll be breaking in a new kicker this season as Chandler Catanzaro is gone. It looks to be Georgia native Ammon Lakip, a junior from Johns Creek.
I keep hearing that for the Georgia defense in Pruitt's first season there is nowhere to go but up. I would echo those sentiments. However, the same can be said for Georgia's special teams which were a profound disaster last season, especially in the opener. Having our all-SEC placekicker back should stabilize some things. But a new attitude in this third phase of the game would be very refreshing to see.