Could Georgia Tech have more special teams trick plays coming?

Georgia Tech running back Nathan Cottrell (31) scores against Miami defensive lineman Josh Neely (84) during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

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Georgia Tech running back Nathan Cottrell (31) scores against Miami defensive lineman Josh Neely (84) during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

After Georgia Tech caught Miami sleeping with a fake punt that went for a touchdown, the Yellow Jackets may have more trickery as they emerge from their open date.

Coach Geoff Collins brought a cache of trick special teams plays with him from Temple, and a willingness to use them. Punter Pressley Harvin’s 41-yard touchdown pass to Nathan Cottrell might have just been the start.

“We have all those plays if you go back (and look),” said tight ends coach Chris Wiesehan, also Tech’s offensive special teams coordinator. “We have a few of those things up our sleeve and a few more. So it’s going to be an exciting time ahead.”

In 2018, Temple scored twice on special teams fakes. One was off a punt play, when an upback took a direct snap and threw to the gunner for a 36-yard touchdown pass in a play not dissimilar to the Harvin-to-Cottrell play. Another was off a field goal, when the holder took the snap and ran five yards for a touchdown.

The Owls ran at least two other successful fakes out of punt formation, demonstrations of Collins’ risk-loving approach. For Tech, the attempts to extend drives or get in the end zone could be beneficial for an offense that ranks 118th in total offense and 119th in scoring offense. The Jackets will come out of their open date to play at home this Saturday against Pittsburgh, ranked 14th nationally in total defense. Tech’s following opponent is Virginia, 11th in total defense. Point-yielding possessions may be precious.

“Anytime you can (pull of a big play on special teams), that momentum swing is huge on both sides because it’s such an emotional high for the team that’s successful and it’s such an emotional low for the team that isn’t,” cornerbacks and defensive special teams coordinator Jeff Popovich said.

Wiesehan called Collins “the wizard” in regards to his special-teams chicanery.

“We do everything as a group here, but he’s the guy that makes that call,” Wiesehan said.

Tech has also blocked a punt (against Duke) and a field-goal try (against Miami) in its past two games after not blocking any in the first five games. The Jackets are tied for 13th nationally in kicks blocked. Temple tied for fifth last season in that category with five blocks, two of which were returned or recovered in the end zone for touchdowns. (Including fakes, blocks and returns, Temple scored eight touchdowns via special teams last season.)

The blocks and fakes have the added advantage of giving opponents extra concern.

“It’s going to help from the gunners’ perspective and in the overall perspective because (opponents) know they have to be cautious if they want to come after us (on a block attempt) and know that we have enough in our arsenal to go after them,” Wiesehan said.

With kickers or punters facing an opponent that has shown the ability to create blocks, “they try not to let it bother them, but I think deep down it does, and they kind of start changing what they do a little bit. ‘Hey, I’ve got to kick a little faster, I need to get it a little higher.’”

Tech’s special teams does have other priorities besides tending to its gadget bag. The Jackets average 4.0 yards per punt return, 115th in FBS, and have not had a return longer than 23 yards. The average is lower than the last two seasons, when the unit was maligned for not creating explosive plays.

Also, Harvin had a punt blocked against Duke, the first time in his career that he’d been blocked. The block was returned for a touchdown.

The punt unit overall has not made the best use of Harvin’s elite ability. The Jackets have given up three returns of 20 yards or more, tied for 114th in FBS. Harvin ranks 35th nationally in punting at 43.8 yards per punt, but Tech is 104th in net punting at 36.33 yards.

Against Miami, following a re-kick of a Harvin punt when offsetting penalties wiped out the first one, both of Tech’s gunners did not execute effectively, allowing a 52-yard return that put the Hurricanes on the Tech 13-yard line. Miami scored on the next play.

Not by coincidence, Tech started its practice this past Tuesday with punt coverage drills.

“There’s no question we lost shoulder leverage, but we’ll improve and we made those adjustments,” Wiesehan said. “We’ll be really good at that.”