Five games into the season and Georgia's kickoff coverage continues to be an issue for Mark Richt's Georgia squad.
The Bulldogs enter Saturday's game at Tennessee ranked 10th in the SEC in kickoff coverage, ahead of South Carolina, and ironically, Lane Kiffin's Volunteers.
Saturday's 20-13 loss to LSU only highlighted those concerns.
Forced to kickoff off from their own 15-yard line following an unsportsmanlike conduct call on A.J. Green, Tigers return specialist Trindon Holliday took the ball on the 17, followed his wedge and didn't meet resistance from the Bulldog coverage unit he reached the 35.
But Holliday wasn't through.
Holliday followed his blockers until he used his speed to get around the edge until he was finally dragged down at the Bulldog 43. Adding insult to injury, the Bulldogs were called for an illegal formation after the breaking from a huddle formation before kicking against the wind. As a result, LSU started at the Georgia 38 and scored two plays later on Charles Scott's 33-yard run.
Sophomore Nick Williams is a member of the Bulldogs' kickoff coverage team and was asked about the decision to kick out of a huddle.
"I really don't know. We just do what we're told. We don't ask questions," Williams said. "We just go down and cover as hard as we can."
Richt was asked what went wrong and explained the chain of events that took place.
"That (the wind) was part of the problem but the other problem was having to kick off from the 15-yard line. That wasn't very good, either but we got punctured right in the heart of our kickoff coverage team," Richt said. "Their wedge did a nice job and everybody knows Holliday is a special cat. One time he got around us but our guys still felt they were in pretty good spot to contain him and probably most anybody they might have contained, but just by his sheer speed got around the edge one time.
"Even when you think you've got him contained, you might not. Of course if you give up to much space and get wide of him, then he'll go up the gut so part of the problem too was he is just a fantastic return man."
But questions remain.
During the kickoff, the Williams were one of just nine scholarship players on the coverage team, a group that included backup quarterback Logan Gray.
On this particular kick, however, Richt felt conditions on the field had more of an effect than personnel.
"Strategically, I did choose the wind to start the third quarter because we knew we were kicking off and I knew that was one kickoff we'd have the wind to our back and I knew if we had to have a field goal early in the second half, I wanted to have the wind at our back," Richt said. "Now in the fourth quarter, it was just the other way around. So now, when the game was on the line, we did gain momentum but didn't have enough to separate and when we were kicking, we were kicking into the wind."
NOTE: Richt defended his decision of using the backup quarterback as his part-time punt returner in fair-catch situations instead of using another player who might give the Bulldogs a better chance of a return.
His reason, he said, is a simple one.
"Even if you set up your best return that you've got, two things happen. If you put your return team in there to set up some kind of return, you're much more vulnerable to a fake. When those guys are on midfield you don't want to be in that situation because more than likely the ball is going to be punted so high and deep, that even if you have your best return on you're still probably going to have to fair catch it because it is so high and due to it's a shorter kick," Richt said. "It doesn't matter who you've got back there, that punter is going to put it up high enough where more than likely it's going to be into the end zone or a fair catch situation. So that's why we have our punt-safe team, which is basically our defensive personnel in the game with the return man to try and field a punt that will might be a little big short and try to make a judgment to let it bounce behind him."
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