Georgia’s most important players of 2015: No. 11 is …

This series began on Monday with a much-hyped freshman. It continues today with a senior whose established success probably hasn’t been discussed enough.

But first, a reminder: This is not a ranking of Georgia’s best players. It is an evaluation of which players are most vital to the team’s success this season based on their own talent, the importance of their position, the depth at certain positions, and the strengths and weaknesses of the team.

No. 12 on this list was freshman receiver Terry Godwin.

And now …

11. MARSHALL MORGAN

Senior

Place-kicker

Photo by John Kelley, UGA sports communications

Photo by John Kelley, UGA sports communications

WHY HE’S VITAL: Georgia fans might be taking Morgan for granted, and they shouldn’t. That’s meant in the best sense: He’s been so reliable the past two seasons (other than the critical missed chippie at South Carolina) that it’s easy to pencil him in for 90 percent made field goals, including some 50-plus yarders. If he has that kind of season again, then it takes a huge amount of pressure off the quarterbracks, the passing game, Brian Schottenheimer, etc. But … and here’s where we have to bring up poor Blair Walsh, whose otherwise brilliant career (college and pros) has the senior year blot on it. So on the off chance it happens with Morgan, it could cost Georgia some games. But if Morgan is as good as he’s been the past two years, he could win Georgia some games too.

QUOTABLE: “My sophomore year I set a really high standard. Last year, I’d give it a B-minus if I had to put it on a grading scale. I obviously would like to do better, and that’s the goal for this fall. I’m going to work that much harder. … The two blocked field goals (last year) didn’t help, the one blocked extra point and one blocked field goal. .. And (missing) anything under 40 yards, that just eats me up. I’ve gotta make sure I make all of those…. I thought it was a good year. But I wasn’t first-team All-SEC or stuff like that.” – Morgan.

BEST CASE: If Georgia was told it could get Morgan’s sophomore year – 22-for-24 on field goals, no missed extra points – then it would gladly take it. Of course Morgan and the Bulldogs would prefer his kickoff average from his junior year (61 yards per attempt, and a 32 percent touchback rate) rather than his sophomore year (60.2 yards per attempt and 24 percent touchbacks.) But Morgan gets a bit of a bad rap from some fans, who think it’s easier than it is to boot it out of the end zone every time. Walsh’s season-best for kickoff touchbacks, during his senior season, was only 28 percent. So for Morgan improving his rate to that, and his kickoff yardage to Morgan’s career percentage (63.7), both seem reasonable.

UGA sports communications

UGA sports communications

WORST CASE: We haven’t yet mentioned Morgan’s freshman year. This is the section for it: He was just 8-for-14 on field goals (yes they tried less because of a lack of confidence), and missed four extra points, a couple of which were blocked. Those days of struggle seem long past for Morgan, but they did as well for Walsh, who was only 15-of-23 as a freshman, before his spectacular sophomore and junior years. So Georgia is obviously banking on Morgan’s career not perfectly paralleling his predecessor. Walsh, in assessing what went wrong his final year at Georgia, told me a year later the problem was mechanical, and it took getting some distance from the season to realize it and fix it.  “I wasn’t able to really step back and look at because we were so into the season, and you just kind of get ready each week, and you don’t really want to make wholesale changes in the season, that’s never gonna end up good.”

FINAL WORD:  For Morgan, avoiding the worst-case scenario is solved by starting the season well. He has a pretty loose, carefree persona, which should also help. Even as a freshman he didn’t really let the pressure get to him, nailing a 50-yarder against Tennessee that tied the game at halftime, and a 52-yarder at Missouri in what was a close game at the time. You can never be sure about many predictions, but Georgia sets up to have one of the best kickers in the country, and like Robert Aguayo at Florida State, it’s a strength that warrants more mention heading into the season.


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