During media availability on Monday, this question was presented to Georgia’s punter, Cameron Nizialek: Are you comfortable with all the media attention.
The graduate transfer from Columbia just laughed.
“I think I got interviewed maybe one time when I was [at Columbia],” Nizialek said.
And why that one time, you may ask? Well, for Nizialek, it took a fake field goal to finally get someone’s attention.
“I scored on a fake field goal for a touchdown against Yale,” Nizialek said, recalling the 2015 game, which turned out to be Columbia’s first Ivy League win in three years. “That was the one time I was interviewed.”
For Nizialek to get a little attention at Columbia it took a fake field goal touchdown run, a career-long 40-yard field goal and snapping an 18-game losing streak in the Ivy League.
Let’s just say it hasn’t taken nearly as much for Nizialek to get a little attention now that he is at Georgia. But his numbers so far may deserve a little credit coming from a previous Georgia team that averaged around 37 yards per punt before Nizialek made the trek from the Ivy League to the SEC.
As the starting punter for Georgia, of Nizialek’s 25 punts throughout the season so far, five have been returned — for a total of 9 yards.
In fact, before Vanderbilt’s Kalija Lipscomb came up with a 13-yard return last Saturday, Georgia’s punting unit was holding onto negative yardage for opponents’ punt returns.
And while these numbers are not completely on Nizialek’s shoulders, he has a lot to do with it.
For the punting unit, Roquan Smith is normally the left tackle. He said that a lot of Nizialek’s success comes from his ability to pin an opponent deep in its own territory, which goes a long way for Smith and the rest of the defense.
“It’s a big momentum play to be able to flip the field,” Smith said. “When you get from down on our own 20- or30-yardd line to flipping the field and putting your opponent to their own 30- or 40-yard line, that’s big time.”
Over the past two games Nizialek has been able to record two 59-yard punts. To throw even more numbers your way, with these two season-long efforts for Nizialek, he is now averaging roughly 43 yards per attempt. These numbers put Georgia as the seventh-ranked team in the nation in net punting. The only other SEC team above Georgia is the Bulldogs opponent on Saturday, Missouri.
While these numbers are all well and good and a far cry from where Georgia was last year in the punting department, there is still one area that coach Kirby Smart needs to see improvement in: consistency.
“I’d love for [Nizialek] to be a little bit more consistent in yardage and hang; we always talk to him about that,” Smart said. “It’s a hard job to measure because every punter wants to bang it as far as he can and we want him to hit it as far as he can. He just has to balance up the hang time and the distance.”
This need for balance is not something Nizialek is missing from his coach; he wants to see improvement in that part of his game as well, more so now that someone has finally picked up a positive return on him.
“Coach has been harping on me that he wants to get the hang time a little closer especially since last week when I outkicked the coverage a little bit,” Nizialek said. “That is something that I am going to continue to work on.”
And as for his reaction to Vanderbilt’s 13-yard return on him, the first positive-yard return for an opponent facing Georgia?
“I’m going to try to not let that happen again,” Nizialek said.