Special-teams breakdowns cost Georgia 14 points against North Texas on Saturday, prompting an in-game switch at the punt-snapper position and more reassessment to come.
“We’ve got to clean it up, or we’re not going to be able to go where we want to go and do what we want to do,” coach Mark Richt said after the Bulldogs’ 45-21 victory.
North Texas scored one touchdown on a 99-yard kickoff return and another by blocking a punt and recovering it in the end zone.
Those plays continued a series of special-teams miscues by Georgia early this season. At Clemson, a high snap aborted a short-range field-goal attempt. Against South Carolina, a dropped snap aborted a punt attempt and gave the Gamecocks the ball at the UGA 18-yard line.
The first costly special-teams breakdown Saturday came in the second quarter, when North Texas’ Brelan Chancellor fielded a Marshall Morgan kickoff at the 1-yard line and returned it the length of the field.
“I think we had a couple of guys fall down there,” said Connor Norman, one of the Bulldogs’ top special-teams players. “And they had a great return guy, and he definitely took advantage of the middle of the field and was kind of gone after that.”
“I’ve been bragging about (Chancellor) for two weeks now,” Richt said. “He made me look like I at least knew what I was talking about. I’m not sure my players believed me until he took it to the house.”
Richt said the coaches will re-evaluate the kickoff-coverage unit before the next game against LSU.
“We’ve got to make sure we have the right people on it,” Richt said.
The coaches didn’t wait until the next game to make a change at snapper on the punting unit. That change came after Nathan Theus’ high snap led to the blocked punt that allowed North Texas to tie the score at 21-21 in the third quarter. Freshman walk-on Trent Frix — brother of Ty Frix, who completed his eligibility as Georgia’s snapper last season — replaced Theus, finishing the game as the punt snapper.
“We’ll re-evaluate if that’s what we want to do next game, but there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to see (Frix) continue to snap on punts,” Richt said. “We’re trying to decide what we need to do on extra points and field goals as well” — Theus’ other snapping duties.
Punter Collin Barber said the high snap Saturday left him no time to consummate the costly punt against North Texas.
“Me going up and catching it and being off the ground for so long, as soon as I hit the ground, they were already there,” Barber said. “I tried to get it off as fast as I can, but they were so close.”
The high snap was compounded, Barber said, by Georgia “checking out of the right protection into the wrong protection. That caused one or two guys to come back there faster than usual.”
Said Norman, speaking generally about the special-teams miscues: “We can’t keep making these mistakes because it’s going to end up coming back to bite us in a big game.”