Georgia Tech

Special teams under microscope at Ga. Tech

Georgia Tech long snapper Casey Wilson retrieves his shoe after a kick in his team’s game against Miami on Oct. 14 in Miami Gardens, Florida.
Georgia Tech long snapper Casey Wilson retrieves his shoe after a kick in his team’s game against Miami on Oct. 14 in Miami Gardens, Florida. AP

Georgia Tech’s game with Virginia Tech this week will likely put a spotlight on special teams. It’s long been a tradition for the Hokies and a facet of the game in which they continue to excel. It’s been hit or miss for the Yellow Jackets this season.

Those oft-overlooked special teams have a chance to play a big role on Saturday when the teams meet at Bobby Dodd Stadium.

“I think they’re good,” Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson said. “It’ll be important that we improve in those areas.”

Georgia Tech’s punt game has been pretty solid. Freshman Pressley Harvin III is averaging 43.7 yards with 11 of his 39 kicks traveling 50-plus yards. Harvin has placed 15 kicks inside the 20 and opponents have called a fair catch on 13 kicks. In last week’s game at Virginia, Harvin’s numbers slipped a big; he averaged 36.3 yards on nine punts, but none went 50 yards.

“He’s been punting the ball well all year, but (Virginia) wasn’t one of his better days,” coach Paul Johnson said.

The other side of the coin is kickoffs and kickoff returns, two areas in which the Yellow Jackets have struggled.

For the previous four years, the Yellow Jackets had come to depend on Harrison Butker’s ability to kick off into the end zone and deny the opposition a chance for a return. This year the opposition has returned 35 of the 46 kickoffs attempted by four different players. Seven of those have been returned for 35 or more yards.

Current starter Brenton King has kicked off 15 times and only one has resulted in a touchback.

The lack of depth on the kicks has resulted in big plays for the opposition. Virginia’s Joe Reed opened the game with a 57-yard return and later took a kick 92 yards for a touchdown.

“The kickoff coverage (against Virginia) was abysmal,” Johnson said. “Call it what it was.”

Virginia Tech doesn’t have that problem. Only Oklahoma (58) and Auburn (54) have more touchbacks on kickoffs than the Hokies (50). The Hokies are third among the power five conferences with 177 kick return yards. Opponents average starting their drive on the 22.9.

In order to reference its special team’s legacy, the team selects a player each week to wear No. 25 as an homage to former head coach Frank Beamer, who emphasized that aspect of the game.

Notes

Camp joins the fun: Jalen Camp, a sophomore Cumming, became only the third wide receiver to catch a pass this season when he snared a 49-yarder against Virginia. It was the first reception of his career. Ricky Jeune has a team-leading 20 catches and Brad Stewart has three receptions. All other pass have been caught by backs.

The Georgia connection: There are nine Georgians on the Virginia Tech roster, including senior Brandon Facyson, a cornerback from Newnan. In nine games he has 15 tackles, two for loss, with three breakups and three passes defended.

“We recruited him,” Johnson said. “He’s been a good player for them. He’s been a starter on and off for his four years there. Certainly he’s been a valuable member of their team.”

The only Middle Georgia player on the Hokies’ roster is Lecitus Smith, a freshman tight end from Fitzgerald. He is being redshirted.

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