Posted: 6:21 pm Tuesday, February 11th, 2014

Coordinators can only improve UGA’s special teams play 

By Chip Towers

ATHENS – All right, Georgia fans, you’ve gotten what you wanted. The Bulldogs not only have added a special teams coordinator to the staff but they now have two. Assistants John Lilly and Mike Ekeler were named co-special teams coordinators by coach Mark Richt on Tuesday.

Now we’ll just have to wait to see if that makes any difference.

The Bulldogs last season were among the worst teams in the country team in special teams play. Some of it was quantifiable statistically and some of it wasn’t.

For instance, there is not an official NCAA statistic for “special teams disasters,” as I called them, but if there was UGA most certainly would have been among the worst offenders in the nation for them. I define a special teams “disaster” or “catastrophe” as a play in which the opponent scores (ie: kickoff return or blocked kick), gains a turnover or gets a resulting major field-position advantage as a result.

Teams try to avoid having even one of those happen all season. The Bulldogs had nine special teams catastrophes: a kickoff return for TD, two punt blocks, two muffed punts, a fake field goal for TD, two mishandled punt snaps and one mishandled field goal hold. Wrap your head around that for a second.

As for quantifiable NCAA stats, the Bulldogs were 108th out of 123 FBS teams in blocked punts allowed, 122nd in punt returns (2.96 ypr) and 66nd in kickoff return defense (21.41 ypr). They were pretty decent when it came to the actual kicking of the ball. They were 20th in net punting and Marshall Morgan was named first team All-SEC after making 22-of-24 field goal attempts (.917).

My email box filled up the past two seasons with fans calling for Richt to employ a full-time special teams coordinator to help rectify the problems. I’ve always been skeptical about that being the answer for a couple of reasons. One, while the majority of teams in the country have a designated “special teams coordinator” or “coach” on the staff, not all of them are great on special teams. Two, Georgia’s setup essentially made Lilly the de facto special teams coordinator. He coordinated meetings, broke down video and met regularly with Georgia’s kickers, punters, snappers and holders. Three, no one person can handle all facets of coaching special teams. There are six different special teams units that are utilized in each game. Hence, all teams employ multiple coaches to assist with special teams, with one coach overseeing each dedicated unit.

In this case, Richt is dividing the coordination duties between Lilly and Ekeler, with Lilly handling the offensive special teams units (kickoff return, punt return, extra point/field goal), and Ekeler handling those that would be considered a defensive unit (kickoff, punt, and extra point/field goal block).

I still contend that naming a special teams coordinator is more a matter of semantics than anything. Running backs coach Bryan McClendon was also named recruiting coordinator on Tuesday. Never mind that the Bulldogs just inked the nation’s No. 8-ranked class without anyone holding the title.

Nevertheless, Richt talked up the move in UGA’s release on the coaches receiving the new titles Tuesday:

“This restructuring I believe will give us the best chance to win from a recruiting and special teams standpoint. Our recruiting effort will be strengthened and our special teams will be improved as well.”

Again, we’ll see how it works out next season.

31 comments
NCDawg
NCDawg

Here is a quick history lesson to demonstrate why I think STs will be better this year.

2001-2008 - Jon Fabris was the defacto STC.  Special teams were a strength of the team.

2009 - special teams play fell off.  Martinez, Janacek and Fabris are canned.

2010-2013 - Todd Grantham and staff are hired.  Special teams go down the tubes on a virtually linear plunge.


Now since the rest of the staff remained the same and the ST philosophy was unchanged, what change occurred just before the STs really started sucking?  I hope that is obvious. And that is why I am optimistic.  Somebody(s) on our defensive staff ( remember the offensive staff remained the same ) just wasn't getting their portion of the special teams load done.


Could it be much plainer?  So now we have 2 guys with ST  experience at other places ( Coach Pruitt and Coach Ekeler ) to give a different perspective.  And we have an offensive guy handling the offensive -like aspects and a defensive guy handling the defensive -like aspects.  My guess we will see a marked improvement.

Buzz-Off
Buzz-Off

I notice that no one in the press has mentioned how disastrous Auburn's special teams were in the 4th qtr of the NC game. Three fumbled kick returns (2 punts and 1 kickoff).....and a 100 yard kickoff return for a TD. I guess when you are #2 and playing for a NC no one notices those types of mistakes. Maybe Rodney is coaching their special teams!!!!

Buzz-Off
Buzz-Off

These will be great changes. Things are really looking up with our new defensive coaches, special teams responsibilities and recruiting coordinator. We needed to make these changes and I think changes may come next year if the offense sputters.

JFKDawg
JFKDawg

We muffed punt returns a few times last year.  Can't remember if it was the Auburn game where we put back a true freshman to return his first punt of the game in the 3rd or 4th quarter, only to have it fumbled and covered by Auburn who went on in to score.  Our ST have been abysmal for some time.  Think of how many games we would have won had Blair Walsh had a coach to tell him to slow down.  Hard to imagine you go from a so so kicker in college to an All Pro based solely on skill.  We had no coach to focus and while I see this as an improvement, do you coach less TE to take on ST?  Less LB to take on ST?

MesaDawg
MesaDawg

Any change has to be an improvement considering last seasons debockle on ST  

Dawg350
Dawg350

I'm proud of Richt for putting a couple of guys over the special teams! 2014 will be the year of the dawg!

ThomasBrownUGA
ThomasBrownUGA

Obviously, what we've been doing is not working, has not been working, and nothing as you say done about.My thoughts before this announcement on the old s/w (now this one on the new s/w) were that a defensive mind had to be involved in kick-offs and punts, since both give up the ball mid-air.

A QB and WR coaching Field Goals?Coaching Extra Points ?Coaching Kick-Off Returns and coaching Punt-Returns ?No.Field Goals and Extra Points are kicking coach.Call Kevin Butler.Kick-off Returns are running backs' coach.And Punt Returns are wide receiver coach.

We don't even understand what we were doing 2001-2007 that we quit doing since.We used to try to return punts and try to return kick-offs, HotDawg.

Marshall Morgan, All-America kicker, cost us the Clemson game last season, out suspended.The timing was all off on that ill-fated field goal attempt, and I believe a Special Teams' Coach would have ruled, go for it - back up to you up there Mike Bobo.

We have all kinds of scholarships wasted on just Special Teams, no team does.We had 2 kickers for 4 years, 2 in one class both scholarships.We have had a slew of walk-ons who played really only on special teams, generally considered one of the very worst in the nation for years now.We gave a scholarship to a punter, who we admitted we could not coach the basic mechanics of, taking a long long wind-up which no Special Teams' Coach would've allowed, or even wasted a scholarship on.He remains on the team and still has our Scholarship, and has not played.The snap at Clemson was bad as several other snaps in the following games, until finally - no coach- we admitted we again wasted a scholarship on him, too.His family the most well to do on the team, and he was coming here anyway.We gave him a scholarship.He, as well, spent the remainder of the season, not playing at all.

Just say no to our Special Teams.

HotDawg, boy, you hit the nail on the head about kick-offs as we watch our guys make no effort to return, while every kick-off by us, we watch as our opponents always do try to return our far shorter kick-offs.

We recruited a soccer player.

Preferred walk-on soccer player kicks-off through the goal posts Macon Stratford again William Ham.

Tell William Ham to kick-off.I have seen enough of Marshall Morgan trying to do that. He's not capable of it.

I don't think we have a punter.Coffin corner ?We can't punt the ball far enough or high enough.We're not close.We had one who could, but he wound up like I said.I see winding up as a failure of Special Teams' coaching.I see talent to punt high enough and far enough as a recruiting issue.

When you have a man responsible for Special Teams, he has to take responsibility for all this. It's his fault if he doesn't.

98 teams of 125 FBS, Chip Towers wrote last year this blog, have a Special Teams' Coach.

Now, Chip says we don't need one ?Is that what I am reading here ?

Mark Richt wants to keep the strings on the Special Teams' Decisions.

This announcement does that.

C-Kirk
C-Kirk

I'm just glad something, anything was done to TRY and improve our Special Team. Same problem we had last year and Richt chose to COMPLETELY ignore it and that decision cost us a few games and one of the worse Special Team in ALL of Division 1. At least we are moving it the right direction. 

KlayCook
KlayCook

Continuity is a good thing....LOL!!!!

HotDawg
HotDawg

Stay safe fellow Bulldogs.

HotDawg
HotDawg

Wait and see attitude. They've had multiple coaches dealing with it. Let's see if Coach Ekeler can add any new wrinkles.

And keep doing whatever they did with Marshall Morgan's field goal kicking last year.

Also, can they learn to bring back the coffin kick for our punter. Ray Guy and many 70's punters were experts with this. It seems to be nearly extinct nowadays. It is a great strategic weapon.

Also, find a kicker who can kickoff deep into endzone. Preferably out of endzone.

NCDawg
NCDawg

I like the splitting of the responsibilities.  It plays to the coaches' strengths.  Coach Richt has said on numerous occasions that the job is too much for just 1 person to handle.  Dividing those duties will allow for more on field coaching in specific areas.  The idea is sound.  I can't wait for 8-30 now.  I want to see the changes on the field.

CHDawg
CHDawg

I think this is a positive step.  One of my very few serious complaints with the coaching is punt returns.  We have had so many great athletes mess that job up in the last few years that is clear to me our coaches don't understand how to coach a punt returner.  I returned punts back in the dark ages in HS, and I think I could do a better job!!  That is one of my worst slams ever.  I think we have a great coaching staff, btw.  Looking forward to seeing what the new staff can produce! Go Dawgs.

SinceVince
SinceVince

Hopefully Boo Boo's play calling will improve like the 6 straight 3 and outs against Clemson and the horrible loss against Vandy.

DawgGoneIt
DawgGoneIt

Put Isaiah McKenzie at KR/PR and keep him there. Let him work all fall up until game one catching punts/kicks and then let him loose game one. We don't have a guy on our roster with the dynamic ability that McKenzie will have. Breakaway speed, shifty moves and acceleration that is 2nd to none. Plus, we don't have that "one guy" that is proven to be the guy and haven't had one since Brandon Boykin. 

TouchdownGurley
TouchdownGurley

@NCDawg  I agree. To say it will simply be lip service is pessimistic... No one knows for sure until  the guys have played a good bit, but Ekeler coached on other staffs that very well may have cared about special teams play. If he comes from another program, he may bring fresh ideas to our program. I can't say for sure, but I believe this approach will improve our special teams play (outside of our already great field goal kicker) and at the very least special teams will no longer be a glaring weakness. Some fresh ideas from Ekeler should hopefully allow for better play in that aspect of the game.

TimeStop
TimeStop

@NCDawg Your succinct and rational observations without the use of trite phrases and words like "drinking the Kool-Aid, a real beast, and stud" is appreciated. However, I will offer one oft-used observation "time will tell". UGA's lack of a cohesive special teams and their mistake-prone play may have accounted for at least three losses. I would never presume that I have the football knowledge or coaching abilities of any college coach.  However, I believe that the spectacularly bad plays by the special teams of the last two seasons would make any football coach at any level wake up at night in a cold sweat and scream "We need to get it fixed as soon as possible!".  

NCDawg
NCDawg

@Buzz-Off of course they don't!  The Turkey Buzzards were the flavor of the month.  But the media around here harps on it as if Georgia is the only team that ever has these issues.  Bama gave up a missed FG for a TD for goodness sake.  

Nobody talked about how SC imploded on STs against UF in 2012 either.  They gave that game away and there wasn't hardly a murmur.  Just sayin...

NCDawg
NCDawg

@JFKDawg even teams with ST coordinators have to get position coaches to teach aspects of the coverage and blocking.


Coach Saban, the greatest living coach ( so they say ) can't put a decent FG kicker on the field.  He has someone with the title on his staff but the kid still struggled.  So much for that theory, eh?

Buzz-Off
Buzz-Off

And utilizing Ham on kick-offs may prevent Morgan from getting injured.

NCDawg
NCDawg

@HotDawgthe problem isn't leg strength... it's trajectory.  Our kickoff guys are told to kick it as high and deep as they can.  That isn't how the guys that knock it out of the endzone virtually every time do it.  They kick the ball at a much lower angle and aim for a spot the returner can't get to easily.


The high and deep is supposed to be like hang time on punts.  It gives the coverage more time to get down there in theory.  That is why you see the pooch kickoffs sometimes when the other team has a deadly returner.  They pop it up and eat the lost field position because it's better than a giant return.  I hate that but they still do it.

JaxFalconDogFan
JaxFalconDogFan

@Bubbatavious Don't forget about the devastating number of critical personnel we were missing in the Vanderbilt game.  This changed Bobo's play calling - maybe not for the better, but at least there was a reason for it.

NCDawg
NCDawg

@Bubbatavious hopefully know nothing's like you will just go pull for their team and stop worrying about what the Georgia Bulldogs do.

NCDawg
NCDawg

@DawgGoneIt We didn't lose one game last year because of not having a good return man.  That is a bonus.  The real improvement needs to come in the logistics and consistency areas.  

We covered kicks well but the point of attack was where everything crappy happened.  We had a punt blocked because of a punter that took too much time to get a punt off.  We snapped the ball over his head a couple of times.  We gave up a fake FG for a TD.  Those are the areas that must improve.


But we need to have someone oversee getting the right team out there in quick order.  Just the overall confidence of knowing who is supposed to be on the field and knowing they will be is a factor that can make the whole sideline much more focused.  If the coaches can get that under control, everything will lokk much tighter.

NCDawg
NCDawg

@dirk1921 @NCDawgI am sure it did and given Coach Richt's personal convictions he probably prayed about it alot... maybe hourly.  I have seen many people that equate his stoicism with disinterest and that is a huge mistake.  Just watch for him to go stone faced... that is when he is beyond furious.

Right or wrong, Coach Richt has a very hard time putting coaches out of work.  He probably made himself sick trying to figure out a way to get the results without having to can anyone.  We'll probably never know if Todd Grantham was told to find another job or if it was just fabulous luck but this change of staff came at the absolutely perfect time.

Now we just have to maintain our sanity until 8-30 when we can see these changes in action.

SinceVince
SinceVince

@NCDawg hopefully you will  continue to DEMAND BETTER out of this coaching staff!

Buzz-Off
Buzz-Off

I think we lost the Nebraska game partially because we fumbled 1-2 punts leading to easy scores by the Huskers.

SkokieDog
SkokieDog

@NCDawg You wrote, "But we need to have someone oversee getting the right team out there in quick order." I agree with this statement, and the fact that the right players didn't get on the field in quick order last year seems to contradict Coach Richt's prior claim that he knows what the he11 he's doing. How long ago did he say that in Macon, in answer to a fan's question?

GDawg929
GDawg929

So we didn't have ANY muffed punts last year?

JeffersonDavisHogg
JeffersonDavisHogg

@NCDawg @DawgGoneIt Every point you make is valid but it sure would have been nice to have had a dynamic, even average return man last year. One good return may have put us in position to overcome all those special teams shortcomings in a couple of our losses. Who knows....It would have been nice to see someone who doesn't give up on a punt and let it go over his head only to be downed inside the 10, or fumble, or no gain. I say throw IM in the position from the get go!

With that being said I'm excited about the changes and look forward to see the results of everything from defense to ST's.....

JeffersonDavisHogg
JeffersonDavisHogg

@Bubbatavious @NCDawg Seems as though you're not happy with anything Bubba. Or is it that you're not a UGA fan at all. It appears that some significant changes have taken place and no DEMAND was needed. Give credit where credit's due and quit living in the past, picking and choosing in accordance with your silly agenda......Bobo's play calling has not been our problem. ST's and defense has been though