Blair Walsh’s off day kicking field goals in Georgia’s win over Ole Miss was hardly the only special teams sore spot that the Bulldogs hopes will be fixed for Saturday’s game against Mississippi State.
“The special teams issues — sometimes you have issues that don’t cost you the game or don’t cost you a touchdown, but we’ve had some pretty big ones that have cost us,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said Tuesday. “We’ve got to get better at that.”
The punt return and punt coverage teams are looking to work out the kinks this week.
“We’re taking some extra time, meeting and field time,” Richt said. “We’ve just got to make sure we’ve got the right people on it and we’re doing things the way we need to be doing them.”
Ole Miss kept the ball away from punt returners Branden Smith and Brandon Boykin.
They returned only two of Tyler Campbell’s nine punts for zero total yards.
“We kept them bottled up where they couldn’t touch the ball,” Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt said.
Georgia was surprised that Campbell used rugby-style punting as much as he did Saturday.
“It’s very difficult to field those punts,” Richt said. “Not only is that punt a hot ball to catch and field, but you are also dealing with a lot of guys running down the field at you instead of maybe just two gunners running down there.”
Georgia ranks ninth in the SEC in punt return average at 5.2 yards per return.
Meanwhile, Georgia gave up an 81-yard punt return touchdown to Ole Miss before halftime, prompting Richt to “body slam my headset.”
Assistant John Lilly, who oversees the unit, said five of the six guards, tackles and wings from last season on the punt team are now in the NFL.
“We’ve certainly been well below our standards this year,” Lilly said.
“There’s definitely a concern when you’re ranked 81st in the nation in any category and that’s where we’re at,” punter Drew Butler said of Georgia’s net punting average of 35.8. “They’ve been able to return kicks this year and last year we were able to minimize a lot of returns and force a lot of fair catches and we’re just not doing that to this point. There’s eight games left in the season and we’re going to get it fixed.”
They meet again
Center Ben Jones wrote a letter of apology to Mississippi State defensive tackle Fletcher Cox soon after last year’s loss for a clip on the Georgia center.
Asked if he heard back from Cox, now a junior, Jones said: “I don’t know. He could have sent something back to Georgia. I didn’t get it.”
Jones sat out the first half of Georgia’s next game at Colorado because of the illegal block. Cox sustained an ankle injury that hobbled him for some of the season.
“I felt bad when I got home,” Jones said. “I was like ‘Man, that’s wrong.’ If that would have happened to one of my players I would have been hot. I apologized and got it out of the way and sent it to him the next day and hopefully that’s gone. It’s a new year.”
Sanders’ season over
One Georgia cornerback is out for the rest of this season and another is all but out the door.
Freshman Chris Sanders from Tucker will have season-ending shoulder surgery, Richt said.
Sophomore Derek Owens is on the verge of transferring.
“As far as I know,” secondary coach Scott Lakatos said. “Coach Richt handles all that. He’ll tell you more than I know.”
Georgia did not put out official confirmation yet, but Owens hasn’t practiced this week.
Sanders played in three games this season, making two tackles. He’s eligible for a medical redshirt, Richt said.
Owens, a 5-foot-9, 166-pound sophomore from Jacksonville, has seen some action on special teams. He did not play against Ole Miss Saturday.
Owens has two tackles in three games this season after making six tackles last year.
Owens was academically ineligible for the Liberty Bowl last season.
This and that
Wide receiver Marlon Brown practiced in a regular jersey on Tuesday. Richt said he’s “hopeful” that he will return to play this week after being sidelined with an ankle injury. Richt also used the word “hopeful” about offensive guard Chirs Burnette being able to play after reinjuring a knee last week. Burnette did not practice Tuesday, but offensive line coach Will Friend said he expected him to go today. … Richt said that offensive guard Kolton Houston’s status remains the same. He is ineligible due to an NCAA issue. “Nothing new to report on Kolton,” Richt said. … Cornerback Damian Swann is doubtful for Saturday with a groin injury.