Georgia’s struggling special teams will get another test against some of the nation’s best kick returners today.
New Mexico State’s Taveon Rogers is second in the country in all-purpose yardage and has already returned two kickoffs for touchdowns this season.
“We all know that anything can happen on any Saturday,” Rogers said. “You’ve just got to go out there and out-compete them. They’re a good team. We’re a good kickoff-return unit. So we’re just going to go out and see who wants it more, you know.”
Rogers, a 6-foot, 188-pound senior receiver from Lancaster, Calif., averages 200.1 all-purpose yards a game. He also ranks 23rd in the nation with a 27.5-yard average on kickoff returns. Georgia has given up two kickoff returns for touchdowns this season, including one last week. The Bulldogs are also last in the Southeastern Conference in kickoff coverage.
“A good kick-return unit has to get everybody doing their job and executing it to perfection,” Rogers said. “Everybody on the return team has to work together. The blockers have to make sure they block the way they’re supposed to and that really helps me find the seam in the kickoff unit. When you can do that, when you can execute perfectly, you’re going to have a great kickoff unit.”
Rogers has rewritten many of New Mexico State’s special teams records in the two seasons since he transferred from junior college. Rogers currently ranks in the top five in school history in career kick-return yardage, kick-return attempts and kick-return average. Earlier this season, Rogers returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown in a 31-24 win against Idaho and ran another back 97 yards for a touchdown in the Aggies’ 44-24 loss to Ohio .
“The first thing you’ve got to do when you’re a kickoff returner is to catch the ball,” Rogers said. “You can’t take your eye off of the ball until you get it secured. The first thing I do after that is hit where the play is supposed to go. I hit it as fast as I can and look for a crease. We know that Georgia has a lot of speed on its kickoff coverage and the best way to beat speed is with speed. I’ve got some speed, so I’m going to hit that crease hard right back at them.”
In his first season with New Mexico State in 2010, Rogers didn’t score any touchdowns, but he averaged 27.1 yards an attempt.
“You don’t really know you’ve hit one until you break into daylight,” Rogers said. “If I break into daylight, then I’m looking to score. But getting around that kicker is tough sometimes. It’s tougher than it looks. You’ve got to visualize before the game the move you’re going to make on the kicker because that’s the guy that gets just enough of your shoe to trip you up.”
Rogers developed into a well-rounded threat for the Aggies this season. He is tied for the team lead with 32 catches for a team-high 669 yards and eight touchdowns. He averages 20.9 yards a catch and 95.6 receiving yards a game and he also leads New Mexico State with 10 touchdowns. In a 48-34 loss to Nevada last week, Rogers set career highs with seven catches for 203 yards and two touchdowns.
“Rogers is also a very, very dangerous kick-return man,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “That’s obviously a concern for us because we haven’t done very good lately on our kick-coverage team. He’s a very talented guy.”
New Mexico State has already played and won in a hostile big-conference environment. In the Aggies’ second game of the season, they traveled to Minnesota and beat the Gophers 28-21.
“There’s probably a little bit of an extra edge to practice,” Rogers said. “But I’m preparing for this game the same way I prepare for every game because that’s what brought me success. We’re just going to go out there and execute our gameplan because the team that makes the less mistakes will win. We’re going to have to try to play perfect because we’re going to have to be on our P’s and Q’s to beat Georgia because we all know that they’re a good team.”