Football is a game of three phases, and Georgia has neglected the third phase this season.
Special teams has been an major problem for head coach Mark Richt's crew this season. The Bulldogs botched a field goal late in the third quarter of the 38-35 loss to Clemson in the opener, which was a sign of things to come.
While injuries have riddled the roster, special teams miscues have impacted Georgia's season as much if not more than players spending time on the training table.
In Saturday's 31-27 loss to Vanderbilt, Georgia allowed a touchdown on a fake field goal, fumbled a punt return in the third quarter (which led to a Vanderbilt touchdown early in the fourth) and flew a snap over punter Collin Barber's head (which set up the game-winning touchdown for the Commodores on the very next play).
Of the nine assistant coaches allowed by the NCAA, Richt has chosen not to employ one specifically dedicated to special teams. Tight ends coach John Lilly coordinates meeting times and responsibilities, but it isn't his primary responsibility.
"My philosophy is it that it's good to have a lot of coaches with some teeth into the special teams," Richt told Seth Emerson of the Columbus (Ga.) Ledger-Enquirer.
While the coaching issue has dominated headlines, Richt told Emerson that it's more a matter of execution than coaching.
"Whether you have a special teams coach or don’t have a special teams coach, or whether you have a special teams coordinator or not, you’ve gotta field the punt, you’ve gotta snap the ball, you’ve gotta catch the snap," Richt said.
Georgia has had two kicks/punts blocked this season, has given up a touchdown on a kickoff return for a touchdown, is averaging just 4.56 yards per punt return—103rd in the country and 12th in the SEC—and is averaging just 18.33 yards per kickoff return—111th in the nation and the second-worst mark in the SEC.
The Bulldogs are giving up 23.66 yards per kickoff return and are giving up 98 yards per game on kickoff returns alone.
|Georgia Special Teams in 2013|
|Statistical Category||Value||National Rank|
|Punt Returns||4.56 Yards Per Return||103rd|
|Kickoff Returns||18.33 Yards Per Return||111th|
|Punting||40.86 Yards Per Punt||74th|
|Opponents' KO Returns||23.66 Yards Per Return||96th|
|Opponents' TDs off of Punts||Two||121st|
Just how bad has it been for Georgia on special teams this season? Here's a list of special teams blunders in 2013 and how they impacted the scoreboard.
- Botched field goal in the third quarter against Clemson (Georgia lost by three)
- Fumbled snap on a punt in the second quarter against South Carolina (South Carolina scored a touchdown one play later)
- 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the second quarter by North Texas (Cut the Mean Green deficit to seven)
- Blocked punt returned for a touchdown in the third quarter by North Texas (tied the game)
- Blocked punt returned for a touchdown in the third quarter by Tennessee (tied the game)
- Fake field goal for a touchdown in the second quarter by Vanderbilt (gave Vandy the lead)
- Fumbled punt return late in the third quarter against Vanderbilt (Vandy scored a touchdown on the ensuing drive to cut Georgia's lead to six)
- Bad snap on a punt in the fourth quarter vs. Vanderbilt (Commodores scored the game-winning touchdown one play later)
Georgia isn't just making special teams blunders, it's making special teams blunders at the worst possible times.
That's unacceptable, and the blame falls on Richt.
He's right that the execution is part of the problem. When you have a stable of coaches focusing on different aspects of the special teams without devoting the majority of their attention to it, execution suffers.
Georgia is consistently near the bottom of the national rankings in most special teams categories, and the blunders seems to consistently take place at inopportune times. That makes Georgia's special teams the worst in college football.
Its mishaps can be directly tied to two of Georgia's three losses on the season, which have knocked the Bulldogs out of the national title race and make a third straight SEC East title seem more like a fantasy than a realistic goal.
Richt may not want to make a change and hire a coach whose primary responsibility is special teams, but he won't have much of a choice, especially since Georgia's defense doesn't look like it's going to be fixed anytime soon.
There's no reason for Georgia's special teams to be this bad.