Special teams could be a big key

mlough@macon.comDecember 3, 2011 

Anybody who might think that a kickoff or punt is a time for a break the SEC championship game is going to miss something.

Special teams will be huge for LSU and Georgia when they tangle Saturday afternoon at the Georgia Dome.

For Georgia, it’s what might keep the Bulldogs in the game if they have an above-average night.

And one part of special teams will have Georgia fans on the edge of their seats.

After a stellar career, place-kicker Blair Walsh has had an almost nightmarish senior season. He’s 18-of-29 in field goals, a 62.1-percent mark that ranks him last in the SEC.

Georgia used senior backup Brandon Bogotay against New Mexico State, Auburn and Kentucky to see if he might develop the consistency that suddenly had evaded Walsh.

But Walsh was the kicker of record in the 31-17 win over Georgia Tech, save for two kickoffs by Bogotay.

Concerns about Walsh will affect Georgia’s game plan in terms of playing for field position, and either going for it on fourth down or trying a field goal that in previous years was an afterthought.

Walsh does seem to have a stronger leg than LSU’s Drew Alleman, who is 16-for-18 on field goals with a long of 44, 12 yards shorter than Walsh’s best this season.

Alleman’s two misses were from 30 and 50 yards, while Walsh’s off-target range this season is 33 to 54 yards.

Walsh has found a bit of groove, finishing the regular season on a 5-of-7 run, with the misses coming from 52 yards each.

Of course, Alleman’s three field goals propelled LSU over Alabama, which missed three field goals and had another one blocked in a huge special-teams game.

“I’m pretty confident to send Drew onto the field and get the threes,” LSU head coach Les Miles said after that game. “Our punter penned them down in there several times as well. Again, we have a quality defense and played decent field position in the game. That’s just solid football.”

LSU has used three different players on kickoffs, led by James Hairston with 62. But Alleman has 13 and D.J. Howard 11 kickoffs.

After that, the Tigers and Bulldogs are fairly even, each with explosive weapons in the return game.

Tyrann Matheiu gets 13.7 yards in punt returns for LSU, with a touchdown.

That touchdown covered 92 yards in the rout of Arkansas.

“Ol’ Mathieu, No. 7, a fearless guy,” Georgia head coach Mark Richt said. “Last ballgame, it was actually a ‘punt safe,’ which no one ever returns a ‘punt safe’ very far. And he took it to the house.

“He’s a very talented guy.”

LSU’s Morris Claiborne averages 27.5 yards per kickoff return with a 99-yard touchdown, while Georgia’s Brandon Boykin counters with a 23.6-yard average.

The Bulldogs, however, have given up two kickoff returns and one punt return for touchdowns while the Tigers have allowed none.

And LSU has an edge in net punting, although little separates punters Brad Wing (42.9) and Drew Butler (43). The Bulldogs’ net is 34.6 while the Tigers’ is 40.59.

LSU covers substantially more, allowing 13 punt returns for all of six yards. Georgia opponents average 14.3 yards, nearly double the Bulldogs’ average return of 8 yards.

And the teams are even in kickoff coverage.

The Telegraph is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service