Auburn has ‘got to be desperate’ to fix kickoff, punt coverage woes ahead of UGA rematch

Leading up to kickoff  Saturday , we’ll be tackling the best questions from Auburn football fans. Look for our Auburn Question of the Day every  Monday  through  Thursday . Go  here  to see all of our previous answers.

What is wrong with special teams? It seems like we give up a huge return every week. UGA could take advantage again in what could be a closer game.

– Alex M.

AUBURN, Ala. — If there’s a major weakness on the Auburn football team heading into the SEC Championship Game, it’s definitely in the form of kickoff and punt coverage.

The Tigers rank 116th nationally in average punt return yardage allowed and 130th — dead last in FBS — in average kickoff return yardage allowed.

Each of Auburn’s last four SEC opponents have had a long kickoff return, including Arkansas’ 100-yard touchdown. The week before that, Auburn allowed a game-changing punt return touchdown in a loss to LSU.

MORE:  Gus Malzahn provides injury update on Auburn RB Kerryon Johnson

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn has stressed the importance of getting the coverage teams fixed for the last month and a half. To him, the solution just comes down to better execution on the players’ part as they enter a title game rematch against Georgia.

“Cover and tackle,” Malzahn said Tuesday. “I mean, really, it’s that simple. We’ve got to be desperate, we got to get off blocks and get to tackle and gang tackle because [Georgia’s] returner, he’s a very talented young man and he’s scary. That’s really as simple as it gets.”

Malzahn said Alabama’s 55-yard kickoff return in the third quarter was the product a rare “mishit” by senior kicker Daniel Carlson.

“Yes, that was one of the more negative things that happened [Saturday], when we kicked it to the right, and it was kind of a line drive and they bounced it back and all that,” Malzahn said. “We’ve got to solve that, and we’ve been talking about it a couple weeks now.”

Auburn football-Auburn Tigers-Auburn-Georgia
Georgia return man Mecole Hardman had a couple of big returns against Auburn. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)

In the area of kickoff returns, Georgia ranks 15th nationally with an average of 27.33 per game. The Bulldogs are also 41st nationally in punt returns.

Freshman Mecole Hardman has taken both of those responsibilities, and he pulled off a 47-yard kick return and a 30-yard punt return against Auburn earlier this month.

“He’s a weapon, there’s no doubt,” Malzahn said. “He’s electric. He’s got that ability. We didn’t do a very good job containing him last time.”

MORE:  Auburn has already ‘flipped the page’ from Iron Bowl win to SECCG

There is one reason Auburn might see improvement in coverage this week, though. Since the SEC Championship Game is being played in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Carlson won’t have to worry about kicking into the wind.

In this indoor matchup, the Lou Groza Award finalist should be able to focus on blasting any kickoff out of the back of the end zone.

“Inside, obviously, there’s no elements, and Daniel’s got a great leg,” Malzahn said. “That’ll definitely help, being inside, I think.”

The post Auburn has ‘got to be desperate’ to fix kickoff, punt coverage woes ahead of UGA rematch appeared first on SEC Country.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.