ATHENS – As he listened to the question, Mark Richt moved forward in his seat and nodded. He was ready for this one, and had wanted to get something off his chest.
“I think the special teams as a whole are getting a bad rap,” Georgia’s head coach said Tuesday, during his weekly press conference.
That bad rap is a result of some prominent miscues this year: Four failed PATs, a muffed punt return and some bad decisions by punt and kick returners. Richt acknowledged those mistakes, but wanted to push back on the notion that the special teams overall has been abysmal.
“We’ve blocked two punts, we had a fake (punt) tried on us and we stopped it, we have had excellent kickoff coverage,” Richt said, adding that the punt team has done well too, despite the statistics, which he said are deceiving. “We’re not allowing big returns. We’re punting the ball high and getting guys under it and getting a lot of fair catches, which is outstanding. We’ve made all but one field goal, two over 50.”
He later also pointed out that Todd Gurley had a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
The extra points have been “an adventure,” Richt acknowledged. Freshman Marshall Morgan has missed two, hit the upright on two more, had another blocked, and a muffed snap resulted in a fourth failed PAT. But Morgan has been good on field goals, as Richt alluded.
Meanwhile, the team has yanked Malcolm Mitchell from punt return duties because of his issues fielding the ball. Rhett McGowan, a former walk-on, is the full-time punt return man because the team trusts his judgment on fielding punts. But Mitchell remains on kick return, along with Gurley.
"We do think Malcolm has the potential to be a big return man as well," Richt said. "We think he and Gurley both have big play potential as kick return men, so we're just kind of letting them share the load a little bit."
Richt didn't point to any specific criticism he has heard about the special teams - he rarely does, but doesn't hide that he's aware of what's being said in the media or the message boards and blogs. The criticism of the special teams may be a carryover from last year's troubles, and the carping at Richt not hiring an assistant to oversee all special teams. But as for this year's troubles, Richt clearly wanted to convey a point on Tuesday.
“Overall it’s been pretty solid. There are a few things that stick out that makes you feel like everything in the special teams is going wrong, but it’s not,” Richt said. “We have six different units. The majority of the units, I think, have done pretty well.”