ORLANDO, Fla. — During the first week of the season, Georgia’s coaches didn’t have an idea of how the Bulldogs’ return game might shape up. Now, with just one game remaining before the season ends, things aren’t much clearer.
“By committee as usual,” part-time punt returner Prince Miller said of Georgia’s plan for the return game in the Capital One Bowl. “We have a lot of guys who can handle the job, and (Coach Jon Fabris) is going to put certain guys in in certain situations, and we’ll just go from there.”
Miller is one of nearly a half-dozen Bulldogs to return punts this season, including last year’s leading kick returner, Asher Allen. Miller had a touchdown on a return against Alabama, but several poor plays down the stretch meant more chances for Logan Gray. Allen hasn’t returned a punt since Georgia’s third game of the season but said he would have liked to have seen more action. Allen played with a broken hand, however, in Georgia’s final five games.
“It’s something I really love to do,” Allen said. “I’ve done it since I’ve been here, I did it all through high school. But it was obviously a decision that the coaches made.”
The kick return game was nearly as turbulent this season without Allen carrying the load. Ramarcus Brown was the primary kick returner early, but freshman Richard Samuel appeared to grab a stranglehold on the job down the stretch, despite making a few bad decisions and a key turnover in Georgia’s final three games.
Brown and Samuel haven’t been the biggest problems, however, according to coach Tony Ball.
“I’ve been really disappointed in our productivity, but it’s not so much who we’ve had back there, we’ve just had so many injuries and have had to put guys in there that hadn’t received a lot of reps,” Ball said. “It’s hard to go back during the season and rep and get somebody ready fundamentally to be effective. I think that’s hurt us more than anything.”
JUST RUMORS FOR NOW
Despite several comments to the contrary from Georgia players and coaches, the rumors of assistant coach Rodney Garner heading to Auburn continue to persist.
Garner interviewed for the head coaching job with the Tigers before Gene Chizik was hired but has not said he is interested in an assistant position, and Georgia head coach Mark Richt said Auburn had not contacted the him about interviewing Garner.
“I don’t think he’s talking to Auburn at all, I really don’t,” Richt said.
CHANGE IS COMING
While Knowshon Moreno and Matthew Stafford haven’t made any final decision on their potential futures in the NFL, one thing remains a certainty: Georgia’s big four offensive stars — Moreno, Stafford, A.J. Green and Mohamed Massaquoi — won’t play together again for the Bulldogs after Thursday’s Capital One Bowl.
That’s a sobering thought for Richt, but he said it has been impossible to not enjoy the time the four stars have had together in Athens.
“They’ve been great,” Richt said. “If you can have that kind of production every year, you’re going to win a bunch of games. You’re going to enjoy coaching them, too. And it’s fun for the fans to run the ball and throw and catch the way that they have.”
PRACTICE WHAT YOU PREACH
With injuries in the dozens at any given time this season, practice hasn’t been nearly as grueling as Richt would like because he simply didn’t have enough healthy players on the practice field.
Looking back, Richt said, he regrets taking it easy on his team at times, going back to the preseason.
“Trend of toning down practice, it started in two-a-days, it started in camp,” Richt said. “In our second of the three scrimmages, when I decided to go thud (instead of full tackle) because of all the injuries, that’s just not how we practice here, and I don’t think it was good for us.”