ATHENS - Collin Barber is kind of the anti-Marshall Morgan this season. While the latter has been a polar personality kicker this season, Barber's punting has been brutally consistent.
By the stats, Barber isn't having a great freshman year: He ranks 12th in the SEC in punting average, at 41.0 yards per punt. But the vast majority of his punts have fallen around that average, with hardly a shank coming to mind. In other words, he may not be booming it like Drew Butler, but he also hasn't hurt the team.
"I guess people say I've been doing all right. To me, I feel like I've done a fairly good job. I know I could do better," Barber said this week. "I feel like I've been showing it these last two games. The biggest thing to me is coming in I was just nervous. Getting back there, a freshman starting for the University of Georgia is kind of a big deal. Everybody is watching you."
Lately Barber has been feeling more comfortable, mainly when it comes to trusting his blocking. In other words, whereas in high school every punt felt like a free kick, he had to get used to the onrushing 250-pound attackers in college.
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"That's all it is. Coach (John) Lilly, coach (Mark) Richt, they all tell me: Just focus on what you've gotta do and don't worry about the protection," Barber said, referring to his position coach and head coach. "It's hard. You've got the peripheral vision, these big guys running at you, and (it's like): 'I gotta speed it up.' But I just focus on the ball now, and trust them, and things have been falling together."
That's why Barber expects his punting average to continue to inch up. At Auburn, Barber averaged 47.2 yards a punt, with three of his four attempts being downed inside the 20. The week earlier against Ole Miss, Barber averaged 48.2 yards, including a season-long of 60, and two of his five were downed inside the 20.
Earlier in the season, Barber agrees that the desire to avoid shanks sometimes sacrificed distance.
"I've been trying to play it safe," Barber said. "I guess there's a big transition from high school to college. My mentality forward is just to get it off. Get it off and wish for the best. The last two games I've been slowing it down, getting my drop to where it needs to be. And once my drop is set there's no telling what it will do."
As Barber said all this, Morgan was a few feet away, being interviewed about his strange season. Morgan, also a freshman, has managed to miss as many extra points (three) as field goals. But he's perfect on both attempts from 50 yards or more.
Barber was asked what he tells his fellow freshman.
"I just tell him just forget about it, you've got the next kick," he said. "Because to be a punter and kicker you've gotta erase your mind pretty fast. If you let that last kick linger in your head you're gonna stress about it. If I were to shank one for five yards, it's gonna upset me but I can't think about it the rest of the night. I've gotta go out and get the next one. That's what I tell him. If you miss one, nobody's perfect. And if you are, then just go ahead and go pro."