Specialists throwing deep balls? Former Jacket Scott Blair approves
Georgia Tech's kicker Scott Blair flexes his muscle after kicking the game winning field goal on Thursday, September 10, 2009, at Bobby Dodd Stadium at Historic Grant Field. Tech won 30 to 27. AJC file photo by Johnny Crawford.)
Saturday afternoon, former Georgia Tech kicker Scott Blair was at his Roswell home with his wife Christy and daughters Ellie and Remi, watching his alma mater play Miami. Towards the end of the first quarter, he saw something most familiar – a specialist throwing a long touchdown pass off a fake special-teams play.
When punter Pressley Harvin connected with Nathan Cottrell for a 41-yard touchdown pass on a fake punt that helped the Yellow Jackets defeat the Hurricanes, he became Tech’s first non-quarterback to throw a touchdown pass since Blair did it against Clemson on September 10, 2009.
Blair launched a 34-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Demaryius Thomas on a fake field-goal try that helped the Jackets defeat Clemson 30-27.
“I was a little in shock that we actually had a fake punt, and I think it threw Miami off, too,” Blair told the AJC on Monday. “But the pass was incredible. My first reaction was, how can a punter throw a ball that well? It’s not even fair.”
Blair joined a legion of admirers. Harvin’s play was a sensation on social media and Monday it helped win him recognition as the ACC co-specialist of the week. Harvin also had six conventional punt plays, averaging 45.5 yards per punt, including a season-long blast of 57 yards.
Harvin himself was quite pleased after the game Saturday.
“Literally by far the best play I’ve ever had in my life,” Harvin said.
Tech coach Geoff Collins put in the play last week, Harvin said. It worked out perfectly. Cottrell, lined up wide as a gunner, ran unimpeded downfield. After taking Cade Long’s snap, Harvin stood at the Tech 49 and threw a tight spiral to Cottrell on the sideline just inside the Miami 10.
“I already knew the corner that was on Nate Cottrell was going to go ahead and just press him and just leave him out, so I took a look and I just threw it up and he just came down with the ball,” Harvin said. “It was a good play.”
As Blair observed, “It didn’t even slow down (Cottrell’s) run.”
Blair had no qualms acknowledging that Harvin threw a better ball. Thomas had to stop his route to wait on Blair’s heave. But Blair deserves credit for a deft post-snap adjustment, as the play didn’t unfold by its design.
The way Tech practiced the gadget play, the ruse was for the offense to be on the field for the fourth-down play, only for the field-goal unit to run on as the play clock wound down, as though coach Paul Johnson had changed his mind.
Then, in the confusion, Thomas was to remain on the field close to the sideline, hopefully unnoticed by Clemson.
“I remember being on the sideline thinking we would never call that play and coach Johnson called it and I think I was not experiencing it so much,” Blair said. “It almost felt like a dream, like it was kind of an out-of-body experience, which is probably a good thing.”
Thomas went unnoticed as planned, but he took off down the sideline at the snap rather than wait for Blair to throw it to him. Blair didn’t panic, but just tossed it deep, where Thomas waited for it to come down, then ran it from about the 15.
“It was just, you don’t have much time to think about it,” Blair said. “Oh, gotta get it to him.”
Blair actually ended up kicking three field goals in the game, including the game-winner from 36 yards with 57 seconds remaining. His career rates among Tech’s top kickers. He made 73.2 percent of his field-goal tries (41-for-56), which is the Tech career record. He also averaged 39 yards on 50 career punts. However, to many Tech fans, he may mostly be remembered for one slightly wobbly, if highly successful, throw.
“I’d rather that be my legacy than something else,” said Blair, who now co-owns a remodeling business (Ranney Blair Construction) in Roswell.
Time will tell how Harvin’s career will be recalled. But what he’s done with his right leg over three years has made a greater impression on Blair than what Harvin did with his right arm on Saturday. This season, Harvin is averaging 43.8 yards per punt, which would be a top-10 season all-time for Tech. His career average (43.2 yards) is second all-time behind Durant Brooks. Harvin was named All-ACC in his first two seasons at Tech.
“You can take him for granted pretty easy, because he just has the same game game after game and just keep averaging 45, 46-plus yards,” Blair said. “That’s pretty impressive in college.”
Blair still has this much on Harvin. With one pass attempt, he finished his career with a passer rating of 715.6, almost certainly the highest rate in school history. Harvin’s career rating, sullied by an incompletion as a freshman against Duke, is a mere 387.2.
Ken Sugiura is a sports columnist at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Formerly the Georgia Tech beat reporter, Sugiura started at the AJC in 1998 and has covered a variety of beats, mostly within sports.