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Georgia Tech Special Teams Blunders: A Recent History

It's been a rough month for Georgia Tech's special teams units. Let's review how they've impacted each game.

Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Notre Dame 30, Georgia Tech 22

During the first half of the game, Harrison Butker twice missed field goals from well within his range that would have changed the complexion of the game entirely. The Jackets' third drive went for 9 plays and 26 yards, but ended with a missed field goal attempt of only 30 yards that would've made the score 7-3. Shortly before halftime, the Jackets again were in scoring position, and Butker missed on a 43-yard attempt that would have made it a 14-10 game. Instead of a 14-13 score at halftime, the Jackets trailed 14-7.

Not only did it change the score of the game, but a lack of trust in his kicker also affected Coach Johnson's decision later in the game on a fourth down and long from the Notre Dame 32-yard line. He opted to go for it and missed instead of having Butker line up for a 49-yard field goal.

Duke 34, Georgia Tech 20

Blown punt coverage (including several missed tackles) enabled Duke to record a 69-yard punt return late in the first quarter, setting up a 1-yard touchdown run on the following play. The second half saw Duke take advantage of poor coverage to run a kickoff back 100 yards, effectively making for a second special teams touchdown.

Georgia Tech's defense held for much of the game, and without these two long special teams touchdown, the Yellow Jackets may have found itself with a fourth quarter lead. Justin Thomas scored a touchdown with 8:02 left in the game to make it 26-20, where it likely would have given the team a 20-13 lead if not for the kickoff and punt coverage.

North Carolina 38, Georgia Tech 31

Midway through the second quarter, Georgia Tech led 21-0. The Tar Heels then went on their first scoring drive of the day, scoring to make it a 21-7 margin with under 90 seconds left until halftime. After a poor series by the Jackets' offense, Ryan Rodwell lined up to punt. Fifth-year senior long snapper Sean Tobin's snap was at Rodwell's feet, causing a fumble and subsequent bad punt. With only 56 second remaining until halftime, UNC only needed 44 yards for a touchdown. They got it, with 4 seconds to spare, and trailed 21-14 at halftime.

With 2:46 remaining in the game, Butker kicked a field goal to make the score 38-31. On the ensuing kickoff, there was an attempt at an onside kick that Georgia Tech appeared to recover. However, upon further review, true freshman Brant Mitchell recovered the ball, but touched it before it had gone a full 10 yards, resulting in a penalty and the ball being UNC's.

The bad snap that lead to a bad punt is the type of thing that sloppy, poorly-coached teams do. Only putting 44 yards between the opposing offense and the end zone leaves the defense in a terrible spot, and you saw exactly how and why that is. The early kickoff recovery is another issue of coaching and discipline. A better punt before halftime or a more well-executed onside kick may have ended in a different result for Georgia Tech.

Clemson 43, Georgia Tech 24

Late in the first quarter, with the Jackets trailing 17-3, the offense went three-and-out, starting from its own 28-yard line. Ryan Rodwell came out to punt from the edge of the end zone. Again, fifth-year senior long snapper Sean Tobin snaps poorly, this time over Rodwell's head. Rodwell mishandles on a rainy day, and proceeds to chase down the ball before attempting to punt. The punt is blocked, and after a scramble for the ball, it rolls out-of-bounds for a safety. Clemson's lead was extended to 19-3, and the game only got worse from there.

I'm not sure what's more concerning here -- another bad snap, or Rodwell's lack of football instincts to fall on the ball and take a safety instead of risking the opponent scoring a touchdown. In any case, this play may be looked back at as the single lowest point of the season.

Pittsburgh 31, Georgia Tech 28

In more of the "honorable mention" category from this list is Georgia Tech's first touchdown of the game, where the extra point was blocked but still made it through the uprights, mercifully.

Georgia Tech ended the first half with a 50-yard field goal attempt from Butker, but it was blocked, keeping the game tied at 21. From Coach Johnson's reaction, there was some concern that the field goal block was executed by a player who hit the snapper illegally following the snap, but there was never a call made.

Also falling in the "honorable mention" category is an opportunity to create a rare positive moment on special teams that didn't quite happen. Late in the fourth quarter, with the game tied at 28, Pittsburgh sent out its kicker to attempt a school-record 56-yard field goal. Adam Gotsis managed to slip between a pair of blockers and found himself in position to block the field goal, potentially setting up Georgia Tech for a game-winning drive. The kick went right between his arms, and right between the uprights. Pitt won by that final 31-28 margin.

What's it all mean?

I want to make two distinct points here.

  • As football goes, teams will almost never win a game off of excellent special teams play. They can, however, very easily lose a game off of poor special teams play.
  • Georgia Tech's offense and defense have hardly been good enough to win any games against Power-5 competition. Special teams meltdowns are making it impossible for them to win.

Special teams is rarely an issue of talent, and it's hardly one here. Special teams are almost always an issue of coaching, as they are here. Poor snaps, poor field goal protection, missed opportunities in the kicking games, and poor coverage have all combined to effectively cost the Yellow Jackets their last 5 games, and it falls on the coaches -- Special Teams Coordinator Ray Rychleski, in particular. Those units have to be more reliable if this team is going to win any games moving forward. If they produce more of the same, chances are that the team will do so too.

Here's to hoping they put together a complete effort under the lights on Saturday against Florida State.

Happy Homecoming everybody, and GO JACKETS!