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January 5, 2017

Why Special Teams Matter

After reading Blutarsky's take, I wanted to make a stronger point for the need for improvement in special teams play.

There has been plenty of ink and air used to outline the precieved trinity of Why Georgia Had a Disappointing Season - offensive line play, unimaginative offensive play calling, red zone defense - and deservedly so. There has been a lot less on the most glaring of issues, IMO: special teams play.

Let's start with the numbers from Bill Connelly
Special Teams

RatingRank
Special Teams S&P+-1.097
CategoryRateRank
FG Value (per kick)-0.1694
Punt Success Rate38.2%124
Kickoff Success Rate74.6%61
Punt Return Success Rate43.5%92
Kick Return Success Rate55.6%18
As Blutarsky put it 
"the absolutely putrid yardage numbers turned in by the kick returners (anyone who returned a kickoff out of the end zone committed return malpractice)." 
That is book-ended by the actual coverage stats. In eight games, we gave up 20+yards/return, meaning if we didn't get a touch back out of the deal, the opposing team was likely starting beyond their own 25 yard line.

This ineptitude was on full display during the Vanderbilt game. Terrible coverage scheme/execution resulted in Vandy getting a 4 yard field for their first possession, resulting in a TD. Then we field a directional kick at the 3 that was 1) going to go into the end zone and result in a touch back and the ball at the 25, OR 2) go out of bounds, resulting in the ball at the 35 yard line. Said kick fielder promptly stepped on the out of bounds line resulting in the ball being spotted on the 3. After three plays, for added bonus, we managed a decent (41 yard) punt, but gave up a 17 yard return resulting in Vandy ball at the Georgia 27 yard line and already in FG range. That is how you lose to Vandy at home. You could make the argument that the loss to Tennessee, and how close the games against Nicholls and TCU were are directly related to that.

This is only a sample of what was a season long slink into bad special teams play. While having better athletes on the field will help, fixing the coaching and structural/scheme issues will be necessary to make the Dawgs a top tier special teams program again.
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