ATLANTA -- On the surface, there doesn’t seem to be much special about Georgia Tech’s special teams. But that’s only after a glance at the statistics.
But more investigation reveals that the Yellow Jackets fare pretty well in the third aspect of a football team that’s often overlooked.
The Yellow Jackets are solid in the punting, kicking and return games and likely will need all phases to perform well to beat Mississippi State in the Orange Bowl on New Year’s Eve.
Punting: Georgia Tech ranks dead last in the ACC for the number of punts. The Yellow Jackets have kicked it away only 29 times, 15 fewer than No. 2 Florida State. That number is so low because the offense has been effective at keeping the ball and converting on third downs.
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Ryan Rodwell has delivered when needed. He has averaged 40.8 yards per punt, with a long kick of 55 yards. Only two of his punts have resulted in a touchback, and 13 times he has placed the opposition inside the 20. Seven of his kicks have been fielded with a fair catch.
Kicking: Sophomore Harrison Butker hasn’t been as consistent this year, but that was mostly forgotten when his 53-yarder sailed through the uprights at Sanford Stadium to force overtime at Georgia (an eventual Georgia Tech win). Making that field goal, regardless of how slim a margin, was enough to make the Westminster product a big man on the North Avenue campus.
Butker has made 11-of-18 field goals, a 61.1 percent ratio of success. Butler is a perfect 5-for-5 inside 29 yards. But he has missed five of his seven tries in the 30-39-yard range. He’s 3-for-4 from 40-49 yards and 1-for-2 from 50-or-more. He had one field goal blocked against Georgia. He’s 21-of-32 for his career.
Butker is 58-for-59 in extra points, the only miss a block against Georgia in overtime. For his career he has made 111-of-113.
He is also a weapon on kickoffs. Of his 79 kickoffs, 48 have been in the end zone for a touchback and only one has gone out of bounds. Opponents average 23.1 yard per kick return.
Returns: Junior Jamal Golden has shown flashes of brilliance this year that made observers remember why he was considered one of the best in the nation before his injury a year ago. Golden has been the team’s primary returner for kickoffs and punts.
As a kickoff returner, Golden has averaged 24.1 yards on 28 attempts. His longest this year was 68 yards and Duke; he also had a 51-yarder in the same game. Of the team’s 66 plays of 25 yards and longer, Golden has recorded 12 on kickoff returns.
He has been less effective as a punt returner, averaging 4.1 yards on 11 returns. His longest was a 28-yard punt return that came in the season opener against Wofford.