McKenzie goes deep: ‘He gave me a pitch to hit’

Isaiah McKenzie accounted for both of Georgia's touchdowns on Saturday, and that was enough.

AUBURN, Ala. – Isaiah McKenzie wasn’t in the game for his game-breaking, ultra-important punt return touchdown because he’s perhaps the best kick returner in Georgia football history.

No, McKenzie was in the game because someone else, Terry Godwin, wasn’t good at yelling “Peter.”

McKenzie’s 53-yard punt return touchdown in the fourth quarter, which proved the difference in Georgia’s 20-13 win at Auburn on Saturday, was McKenzie’s first punt return of the game. Up until then it had been Godwin, the freshman, handling the returns, but he got yanked.

When a punted ball is loose on the field, Georgia coaches instruct players to yell “Peter, Peter, Peter” to alert the other 10 players on punt return to get away from it. The first time that happened on Saturday Godwin didn’t do so demonstratively enough. He was reminded about it.

“And then the second time he didn’t do it. So we put Isaiah in,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said, adding: “That might’ve been a good thing.”

McKenzie fielded the ball at his own 47, cut to the left and through some Auburn defenders, then cut back to the middle and was soon in the end zone.

“When he outkicked his coverage, coaches talk about getting a pitch to hit,” McKenzie said. “That’s what I did. He gave me a pitch to hit. My teammates had great blocks, and I got around a corner. It was up to me after that.”

It was McKenzie’s fourth career punt return touchdown, and his fifth career punt or kick return touchdown. Both tied school records.

“He’s got nerve,” Richt said. “You’ve gotta have nerve. And sometimes that nerve will work against you too.”

By that, Richt meant trying to catch a ball he shouldn’t try to catch. Which was why McKenzie was yanked in the first place from his punt returning duties. That and a hamstring injury that kept him out of the Florida and Missouri games.

McKenzie, the 5-foot-7 freshman nicknamed “Human Joystick” by his teammates, was the only Georgia player to enter the end zone on Saturday. He also scored on a 4-yard jet sweep in the third quarter, tying the game. He also caught two passes for 15 yards, and finished the game with 26 rushing yards on four carries.

It was a reminder how important McKenzie can be to the offense and the special teams, as long as he can yell “Peter,” and keep the hamstring healthy.

“Coming out of high school, my freshman year of college, I didn’t think I was gonna do what I did last year,” McKenzie said. “Coming into this year I had high hopes to do more. And that’s what I came out to do today.”

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