The No. 3 Bulldogs’ plan to identify a frontrunner for the starting job was undone Monday by a clutch performance from freshman Andy Bailey.
“It went really well today,” said Bailey, who hit five of six field goals during a morning kicking scrimmage at Sanford Stadium. “The one I missed, I hit it real well. I’m hitting the ball solid, so that’s a good confidence builder.”
Freshman walk-on Brandon Coutu had moved ahead of Bailey, who is on scholarship, in the first week of practice, and Coach Mark Richt said he hoped Monday’s scrimmage would solidify the situation. However, Coutu missed two of his six kicks, as did Dublin walk-on Brian Mimbs, said assistant coach David Johnson, who coordinates the field goal team.
“We really know less now than we did before,” Richt said. “If Coutu had just drilled them all and Andy had struggled, it might have been over.”
Johnson said, “We’ll keep going. It’s still a good competition.”
Mimbs has impressed Johnson with his demeanor but is not a serious candidate for the field goal job because he’s still learning to kick off the ground, rather than off a tee as he did in high school, Johnson said. Mimbs still is battling Coutu for the starting kickoff spot. Bailey has the strongest leg of any of the three kickers but has struggled with his placement on kickoffs, said Johnson.
The strength of Bailey’s leg and Coutu’s accuracy leave the possibility that Georgia will go with Coutu for field goals of fewer than 40 yards and Bailey for longer kicks, Johnson said. However, Richt said he doubted the Bulldogs would use two field goal kickers.
“After about 45 yards, I think I have the stronger leg,” said Bailey, who added he made a 53-yard field goal in warmups. “I feel confident about kicking from that far out. That’s why I think I have a good chance of getting in.”
Coutu, who only remembered missing one of Monday’s six kicks, talked like a man who knew he let an opportunity slip away.
“I don’t think anything final was determined,” he said. “This (competition) has been going on for a year now. I don’t think they’ve been waiting for this Monday to decide who’s going to be the starting kicker. I feel pretty good, and I’m sure Andy does, too.”
Georgia will hold another full speed kicking scrimmage on Friday, but Richt said the field goal battle could go until the season opens on Sept. 4 against Georgia Southern.
“It may work its way into the season,” Richt said. “If it stays this tight, somebody will start out, and we’ll have another guy ready to go if we need him.”
The eventual reward for the winner of this competition will be a spot replacing the SEC’s all-time leader in field goals and scoring by a kicker, Billy Bennett. Last season, Bennett hit 31 field goals, setting a single-season NCAA record.
The prospect of filling his shoes clearly has Georgia’s coaches worried. The team’s kickers are getting more individual attention on the field and in the film room than they have any other year during Richt’s three-year tenure, Johnson said.
Bailey said he understands the pressure that will come with replacing Bennett, but, for now, he’s concentrating only on his chance of doing that -- a chance that may have been salvaged Monday.
“I showed I can kick on Saturdays,” he said.