There may never have been a more certain recipient of SEC player of the week honors than Georgia punter Jake Camarda this week.
The sophomore from Norcross certainly was a key player in the Bulldogs’ 21-14 victory at Auburn last weekend. In a classic “field-position battle” according to Georgia coach Kirby Smart, Camarda punted 11 times for a 50.7-yard average and four were downed inside the Tigers’ 20-yard line.
Fittingly, Camarda earned his first special teams player of the week award on Monday.
“Man he hit the ball good,” Smart said after the game. “I mean a couple of them didn’t turn over. … He was hitting bombs. It was incredible. I hope he doesn’t have to punt 11 times in a game again, but other than that, he punted the ball well.”
The 11 punts were the third most in a game in Georgia history and the most since Bucky Dilts had 11 versus Ole Miss in 1976.
And, yes, some were true boomers. Camarda’s first punt of the day went 66 yards and was downed at the 2. His long this season is 67 and he hit a 69-yarder as a freshman last year.
It was a spectacular performance at the most opportune time. It was sorely needed for Camarda, too, because while he came into the game with SEC’s second-best punting average (48.7), his season has been marred with inconsistency.
It seemed like for every punt of 50 or more yards by Camarda (he’s had 16 of those) he’s also had a shank or mishit. That was the case again Saturday, as Camarda shanked a 34-yarder out of bounds to start the third quarter and hit another 34-yarder out of bounds at the Auburn 27 on his last punt of the day.
Earlier this season when Camarda was struggling, Smart said the competition for punting duties would continue in practice. Redshirt sophomore Bill Rubright of Atlanta is Camarda’s backup and always travels with the Bulldogs.
But Smart said Camarda always answers the challenges in practice and clearly is an exceptionally-gifted punter.
“He does that all the time,” Smart said of long, booming punts with well over four seconds of hang time. “Everybody's like, ‘well, is Jake going to continue to be your punter? Yeah, he hits 60 yarders at practice.’ It’s just a matter of when it comes to fruition in the game. You just keep working with him. I think psychologically he’s handling things a lot better, and mentally he's been much stronger and he's done a really good job. He was very impactful in that game, and just hope he can continue to do that.”
Camarda’s performance was particular crucial this past Saturday as the Bulldogs managed only 251 yards offense — a season low — and gained only two yards in the entire fourth quarter as Auburn mounted a furious comeback from a 21-0 deficit.
“Pivotal. I mean, it was a field-position game,” Smart said. “He flipped the field position, did a tremendous job. Can’t say enough about it. I mean, the thing about all the confidence and sticking with him, we’re at practice every day. So we see that every day.”
Georgia linebacker Monty Rice was also named SEC defensive player of the week. The junior from Madison, Ala., led the Bulldogs with 10 tackles and anchored a defense that held Auburn scoreless for three quarters despite the Tigers running 86 plays, the most by a UGA opponent in the Kirby Smart era. Auburn managed only 84 yards rushing in the game, though the Bulldogs allowed their first rushing touchdown of the year through 10 games.
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