ATHENS — Listed as Georgia’s backup kickoff specialist on this week’s depth chart, Collin Barber looked ready to take over the No. 1 spot in that role Saturday.
In fact, he looked as if he already has, unofficially.
Barber handled Georgia’s first six kickoffs against Louisiana-Monroe, getting four of them to the end zone for touchbacks.
“I wanted a touchback on every one,” he said.
Barber, Georgia’s punter the past three seasons, said he realized late in preseason camp that he likely would kick off in the opener, something he had done rarely since high school. Marshall Morgan, Georgia’s field-goal and extra-point kicker, had mostly handled the Bulldogs’ kickoffs the past three seasons
“Just a couple of weeks ago, Marshall tweaked his groin, and (the coaches) wanted to see me kick off,” Barber said. “So I’m just going to do the best I can and see how it goes.”
Georgia coach Mark Richt was noncommittal about the kickoff role for next week’s game at Vanderbilt and beyond, saying: “I don’t know who will be kicking off, going forward.”
“I have no idea,” Barber said. “I guess it all depends on who kicks it better and who is being consistent. I guess we’ll see next week.”
Barber had kicked off only 15 times previously for Georgia, all during the 2013 season.
Morgan had handled kickoffs the past three seasons with varying success, his strong leg on field goals not always translating to the different technique of kickoffs. He had 31 touchbacks last season, up from 17 the year before, but his 32 percent touchback rate was eighth in the SEC and around the middle nationally.
Morgan, who made seven PATs Saturday, got the call for the last two of Georgia’s eight kickoffs in the 51-14 victory. The first reached the goal line and was returned to the 16; the second was returned 13 yards from the 6 to the 19.
Barber’s two kickoffs that weren’t touchbacks were returned to the ULM 26. He said his technique was off on one and that he “cramped up three steps before the ball” on the other.
There was talk during preseason practice that freshman walk-on Rodrigo Blankenship might supplant Morgan on kickoffs. But Blankenship wasn’t on Georgia’s two-man depth chart this week at the position.
Barber also got off to a solid start in his punting role Saturday. He dropped two punts inside the 20-yard line and averaged 43.8 yards on four punts.
“I’ve always wanted to contribute to the team as much as I can,” Barber said. “And talking to my kicking coach and this being my senior year, being able to kick off definitely would help me if God lets me have a chance after this to go in the NFL. I’ve practiced that all summer.”