After turbulent start, Bulldogs find sure-footed kicker in Morgan

As Georgia’s head football coach, Mark Richt has a lot on his to-do list.

Back in December 2010, Richt was busy working to close strong on a much-hyped “Dream Team” recruiting class and preparing his squad for the Liberty Bowl in what turned out to be his first losing season with the Bulldogs.

He also became heavily invested in finding a kicker to replace Blair Walsh, who would end his career as the SEC’s all-time leading scorer.

“I tried to get our recruiting crew to get me as much film of the best kickers in the Southeast and around the country, and I looked at them all,” Richt said.

Marshall Morgan, from Coral Springs, Fla, who just finished up his junior season, was the guy that Richt wanted.

“I wanted to make the call on that one,” Richt said. “From what I saw on film, he was the best one. … He’s the guy we offered first, and thankfully he decided to come.”

Florida State and Florida were among Morgan’s other suitors, but he decided to commit about six weeks after getting his Georgia offer, becoming the heir apparent to Walsh.

It may not have looked like a good get for Georgia last season.

Morgan had his share of struggles as a freshman, making 8 of 14 field goals, and then was forced to miss the first two games of this season after a boating under the influence arrest. But Morgan has been about as rock solid as anybody on the team during this turbulent season filled with injuries and close games.

Morgan made 18 of 20 field goals, good for 90 percent, tops in the SEC and sixth nationally among those with 20 or more attempts.

He was named first-team All-SEC by both The Associated Press media vote and the coaches.

Morgan will head to the New Year’s Day Gator Bowl against Nebraska having made his last 13 field goal tries since missing off the left upright on a 39-yard attempt at Tennessee on Oct. 5. He followed that up by booting the game-winning 42-yard field goal in overtime in the 34-31 Bulldogs win.

He knew that he had won over his teammates a week earlier when he went 3-for-3 on field goals in a win against No. 6 LSU, including a 55-yarder.

“The teammates, they have a lot of confidence in me now,” Morgan said. “The coaches, they just felt comfortable putting me out there for longer field goals and more field goals. It just feels great. … I’m going into the bowl game with a lot of confidence and into next season.”

Morgan is the only kicker in the FBS to make two field goals of 55 yards or more this year. He made a 56-yarder against Tennessee that is tied with five others for the longest this season.

“Marshall’s a freak athlete,” Georgia receiver Chris Conley said. “He’ll come out and kick 50-yard field goals for like 10 minutes at practice and nail each of them at different angles.”

Morgan’s favorite game was against Florida, where he made field goals of 49, 27 and 32 yards in a 23-20 victory.

“If I have a good game against Florida and we beat them, of course, you can’t beat that,” Morgan said.

Morgan has even flipped his results on extra points. He’s a perfect 46 of 46 this season after going 63 for 67 last year, when even some of those that went through the uprights were an adventure. Not this year.

“No pinballs,” Morgan said.

Morgan said on the field he worked more on angled kicks, which “made the area to make it a lot smaller and then when you go to kick a regular field goal, it’s like nothing.” Off the field, the support from his family, including three brothers, and his roommates Greg Pyke, Collin Barber and Trent Frix, helped him get through the early-season suspension.

The one area of his game that Richt wants him to improve on in the offseason is kickoffs as 17 of Morgan’s 67 kickoffs (25.3 percent) went for touchbacks. As a team, Georgia ranked 12th out of 14 teams in touchbacks and 13th in kickoff coverage.

Richt didn’t want to mess with Morgan’s kickoffs while his field goals and extra points were going so well.

“I’ve been working on driving it more,” Morgan said. “You see a lot of kickers just driving it really low just to get the touchback every time. That would be nice, but we’re also getting them down before the 25 with the hang time and stuff so that’s good, too.”

Morgan was a semifinalist this year for the Lou Groza Award for the nation’s top kicker. If he keeps at his current pace, he figures to be a top candidate to be a finalist next year.

“I saw in the spring the things that I was seeing in high school film on a consistent basis,” Richt said. “It carried through the summer and the fall, and he’s been really good. I’m happy that he got to show everybody how good he can be.”

Blog: Video interviews: Jeremy Pruitt and Mike Bobo

by Marc Weiszer

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