The Bulldogs and their new head coach were making lots of people forget about the longtime success Virginia Tech has had on special teams under head coach Frank Beamer. In Mark Richt’s first three seasons (from 2001 to 2003), Fabris Ball was sweeping the nation.
Georgia assistant Jon Fabris, who is not called the team’s special teams coach but is the coach most heavily involved in that part of the game, was leading a group that blocked 18 kicks and scored 60 points off those blocks in that time frame. In 2002 and 2003 alone, the Bulldogs blocked 57 kicks and scored 57 points off them.
In the five years since, the Bulldogs have blocked a combined nine kicks and scored 42 points off them. In the last several seasons, Georgia has gone into games hoping simply to break even on special teams, and too often has not.
The Bulldogs have not made up for their lack of blocked kicks in the return game recently either. The days of Damien Gary and Mikey Henderson making every punt return a potential scoring opportunity are gone as well.
Prince Miller returned a punt 92 yards for a touchdown against Alabama last year (Miller is the only current Bulldog with a special teams touchdown.), and Georgia led the SEC in punt return average with 17.6 yards per return. Still, Georgia couldn’t settle on one punt returner, a sure sign that no one is taking the job by the throat.
Miller, Logan Gray, Asher Allen, Knowshon Moreno and Reshad Jones all returned punts last year. Miller, Gray and Jones return to the team this year.
Georgia’s kickoff returns were ever worse than its punt returns. The Bulldogs ranked eighth in the SEC, averaging 21.1 yards per return. And they did that with Ramarcus Brown, the school’s career record holder in kick return average (25.6 yards per return). Georgia must replace Brown this season, with Brandon Boykin and Carlton Thomas being the leading contenders. Running back Richard Samuel, who fumbled away a kickoff return in the Bulldogs’ regular season-ending loss to Georgia Tech, may get another chance this year as well.
It used to be that Georgia’s placekicking and punting were enough to overcome its shortcomings in other areas of the special teams, but that ended when Brandon Coutu’s eligibility ended.
The Bulldogs thought they had Coutu’s replacement in the wings when they signed Blair Walsh, the No. 1 high school kicker in the nation, but that didn’t go as smoothly as they had hoped last year. Walsh started strong, hitting 10 of his first 12 kicks, with both misses coming from further than 50 yards away. However, he seemed to lose his confidence down the stretch, missing 6 of 11 to end the year.
It should be a troubling sign for Georgia fans that head coach Mark Richt, who normally supports his kickers through thick and thin, saw fit to sign a junior college kicker this year. Now Brandon Bogotay of Grossmont College will compete with Walsh for the job.
Drew Butler, the son of former Georgia All-American place-kicker Kevin Butler, is penciled in as the team’s starting punter. Butler kicked just three times last year behind walk-on Brian Mimbs and continued to struggle with his consistency in the spring.