Last season's team had Burt Jones leading the special teams attack. This year's seniors needed a…
Special Teams strong despite late struggles
ATHENS - Georgia gave kicker Billy Bennett an early opportunity at redemption Saturday, and he didn't disappoint.
The Bulldogs' senior, who missed three field goals in a seven-point loss to LSU two weeks ago, hit three in the first 17 minutes of a 37-23 win over Alabama at Sanford Stadium.
But then Bennett, like the rest of Georgia's special teams, wilted. He missed a 41-yarder with 5:20 left in the game that would have ended most of the game's suspense.
"I feel a lot better about (things)," Bennett said. "You always remember your last kick, though."
The 41-yard miss was similar to the first kick he missed against LSU two weeks ago because Georgia was flagged for a penalty and he had to run off the field and back on again.
"The problem is, we're icing him," Coach Mark Richt said.
"I think that's something I still need to work," Bennett said of hitting kicks after distractions.
Bennett was obviously relieved when he hit a 27-yarder to tie the game with 6:44 left in the first quarter, drawing a rousing ovation from the home crowd. The Athens native was even more excited later when he hit a 44-yarder late in the first quarter and a 52-yarder early in the second.
All of Georgia's special teams players had a good first half. Wide receiver Jarrett Berry of Mary Persons blocked a second quarter punt that Thomas Davis returned 7 yards for a touchdown. Saturday was Berry's first game back after missing two weeks due to a knee injury. He missed most of last season after major knee surgery and returned this season.
"He kept working and working, but he was just a wounded guy out there," Richt said.
So Georgia held him out for two weeks and let him return against Alabama, with excellent results. Berry compared the feeling of the blocked punt with his only collegiate touchdown.
"This is a bigger game than when I caught that pass," he said.
However, Richt's positive impression of his special teams went out the window in the second half, thanks to Bennett's missed kick and two botched punts. With 14:05 left in the fourth quarter, punter Gordon Ely-Kelso dropped a low snap and Juwan Garth ran it 10 yards for a touchdown.
"It was right there, I just dropped it," Ely-Kelso said.
Then Ely-Kelso's last punt of the game went only 11 yards, giving Alabama the ball at Georgia's 48-yard line late in the game.
Kickoffs continued to be a problem for the Bulldogs, too. Georgia gave up 132 yards on six kickoff returns and managed only 22 yards on two returns of their own.
"If you could take out some of the very negative things that happened, I'd say (the special teams played) good overall, but we've still got some things to work on," Richt said. "There are some issues."