ATHENS — There were 23 college football team this past weekend that weren’t able to kick a touchback. Georgia was one of them. There were eight teams that had at least six kickoff attempts, and failed to force a touchback. Georgia was one of them.
That wasn’t by design, head coach Kirby Smart made clear on Tuesday night, when asked what his philosophy was on kickoffs, and if he’d prefer someone boot it through.
“What do you think?” Smart said, interrupting the reporter. “What do you want?”
I don’t want anything, the reporter replied.
“Well what would you want?” Smart persisted. “If you were coaching what would you want?”
I’d want somebody to kick it out of the end zone.
“Well me too. That’s my philosophy,” Smart said. “You know anybody?”
No. Smart’s point, and it was one that Mark Richt and other coaches have also made, is that players with the ability to kick it through the end zone on a regular basis aren’t that common.
According to cfbstats.com, only four teams this past weekend had a 100 percent touchback rate: Virginia Tech, Mississippi State, Georgia Tech and San Jose State. The average touchback rate was actually below 50 percent.
That’s not going to stop Georgia from trying to get better at it. In fact the team already tried one in-game adjustment.
Redshirt freshman Rodrigo Blankenship was supposed to be the kickoff specialist. But after three kickoffs, the last of which was returned by North Carolina for a 95-yard touchdown, sophomore William Ham was given the other kickoffs.
Blankenship’s three kickoffs averaged 61.7 yards in the air. Ham’s averaged 60.3. Blankenship’s three kickoffs were returned by North Carolina for an average of 44. 7 yards (19.5 if you take out the 95-yard TD). Ham’s three kickoffs were returned for an average of just 12 yards (helped by a 0-yard return when a Tar Hell player stepped out of bounds.)
Either way, the result was inconclusive.
“We’re not settled on one guy,” Smart said. “We’ll get the guy that does the best job this week, when we do kick off. Whichever one of them earns the job, it’ll be a competition until somebody wins it. It’s not settled.”
One other measure is being tried: More rest. Georgia’s coaches do believe Blankenship and Ham have the ability to kick through the end zone. The question is whether their legs were at full strength on Saturday.
“Maybe we’ve been over-kicking. I don’t know, maybe we’ve been over-thinking it,” Smart said. “But (kickoffs have) been a concern of mine all camp, and will continue to be until that ball goes out of the end zone like theirs did.”