The stat sheet for Saturday’s game between the Georgia Bulldogs and the North Texas Mean Green is a gross misrepresentation. Hidden within the Dawgs’ 45-21 win are plenty of statistical positives, including a stout defensive effort (Georgia allowed just six yards rushing and 245 yards total) and a 400-yard performance by Aaron Murray.
But those numbers don’t tell the true story. In reality, this game was as sloppy as the soggy weather at Sanford Stadium for the majority of day. Georgia broke away late in the fourth quarter, but the outcome was in doubt for entirely too long, thanks to a series of miscues by the Bulldogs special teams units.
After taking an early 14-0 lead, Georgia's defense surrendered North Texas’ lone offensive scoring drive, as the Mean Green pulled to within seven points early in the second quarter. Georgia struck back with a scoring drive of its own, and then the wheels came off.
Leading 21-7 with 7:15 remaining before halftime, the Dawgs surrendered a 99-yard kickoff return to speedster wide receiver Brelan Chancellor. Neither team found pay dirt for the remainder of the half.
Georgia opened the second half with a three-and-out offensive possession that led to a blocked punt. The punt was recovered by North Texas in the end zone, and the score was brought to a tie at 21 apiece.
All week, Georgia preached the importance of focus. Earlier this week, Mark Richt told ESPN.com’s David Ching that, “I think everybody's just got to understand that we must focus very, very hard on improving, but we need to focus very hard on our game plan.”
Unfortunately, that focus was missing altogether for the special teams unit. As a result, North Texas hung around for entirely too long and kept Georgia from playing backups in what should have been a comfortable win.
This week, the only noticeable consequence of such miscues may have been the starters remaining on the field late into the fourth quarter. Next week against LSU, however, such errors in execution could leave the Bulldogs on the losing side of an SEC battle.
Georgia famously does not employ a special teams coach. As one of the few programs in the country to perpetually maintain a vacancy at that position, many fans wonder if an unorthodox approach to coaching special teams is limiting the potential of this team.
The effect of such a lack of emphasis was clear Saturday. It could be fatal next week.