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Special teams play really special at Georgia Southern
Charlie Edwards skied three kicks for a 45.7-yard average against Tusculum during Georgia Southern’s second game of the season. But the senior was not a happy punter.
Two of Edward’s punts sailed into the end zone. He gladly would have sacrificed some yardage for a couple of balls downed inside the 10.
“I didn’t want any of my punts going into the end zone,” Edwards said. “That was one of the goals I had for the season and it’s already ruined.”
It was a lofty goal to shoot for, but understand Edwards’ hopes only mirror the recent standards set for all of the Eagles’ special teams.
Here are a few of the highlights:
• Edwards and GSU’s punt team led the Football Championship Subdivision in net punting last season.
• Senior placekicker Adrian Mora has never missed an extra-point attempt in his career, a streak that has reached a school-record 107 straight.
• Kickoff returner Laron Scott, who already holds the school’s career mark with 1,477 return yards, is averaging an astronomical 52 yards a return this year.
• Punt returner Dominique Swope, a freshman, is averaging a Southern Conference-leading 26.3 yards a return.
“With a lot of those teams, it comes down to “want-to” because most of those kids aren’t the starters on offense and defense,” GSU coach Jeff Monken said. “It’s their opportunity to play, and I think they’re taking a lot of pride in it.”
Monken’s unique approach to special teams play has just as much to do with the success. He has assistant coaches in charge of each of the special teams and those coaches have access to the rest of the staff.
For instance, Monken oversees the punt team, but an assistant will watch the gunners. Another coach watches the tight end, another the tight tackle, another the tight guard, another the split guard, another handles the three
players in the shield and another coach monitors the center.
In essence, eight coaches have a hand in GSU’s punt team. It’s the same for the kickoff teams, placekicking squads and return squads.
Monken also won’t stand for a player asking for a breather during special teams. If a player needs a rest, he’ll come out during offensive or defensive plays.
“Some coaches see offense and defense, but coach Monken really emphasizes that third part of the game,” Mora said.
On consecutive weeks, Scott made plays that seemed to take the fight out of the opposition. In the season opener against Samford, Scott’s 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown trumped a Bulldogs field goal that only a few seconds earlier cut GSU’s lead to 14-10.
Suddenly, it was 21-10.
“The (kickoff team) is playing with a lot of confidence,” Monken said. “They’re starting to believe they can take back every kick (for a touchdown).”
Scott and the kickoff team came close three times against Tusculum, again swinging the game around.
The visitors rallied to score two touchdowns late in the first half to trim GSU’s lead to 21-14. But with 26 seconds left in the half, Scott returned the ensuing kickoff 55 yards to the TC 40. Four plays later, Mora booted a 37-yard field goal and Southern had regained some of its lost momentum.
Despite Scott’s earlier touchdown, Tusculum booted the second-half kickoff to him, and he returned it 41 yards to the TC 44. Four plays later, GSU had another touchdown.
Scott’s 48-yard return later in the third quarter set up another Eagle touchdown.
Suddenly, a close game was a laugher.
Tusculum didn’t cover punts any better. Swope bulled his way for returns of 37 and 29 yards. Johnathan Bryant added a 33-yard romp.
GSU capitalized on the big plays of its special teams and scored 62 points, its most since short-circuiting the scoreboard for 63 in a 63-17 win over Morehead State on Nov. 12, 2005.
“I think everyone saw what can happen when you’re starting every possession on the other side of the 50,” Edwards said. “It makes the playbook unlimited almost.”
Edwards is on the other end of the equation. He’s a defensive weapon, giving up yardage begrudgingly while trying to pin opponents deep in their own territory. Opponents returned only 12 of his 56 punts for a total of 45 yards last season, and Southern’s net punting average of 39.16 was best in the nation.
Edwards dropped 19 punts inside the 20 and had only three touchbacks.
“Everyone talks about average, but if I had a 30-yard average and 100 balls inside the 10-yard line, that would be a great season for me,” Edwards said. “I have the easiest job on the punt team. All I have to do is swing my leg.”
On a team of numerous offensive weapons, none is more consistent than Mora’s right foot. He succeeded on 19 of 21 field-goal attempts last season and made his first three this season.
His 107 straight successful extra-point kicks after touchdowns are just 19 behind the FCS record of 126 set by Montana’s Chris Snyder from 2000-03.
“(Mora) really is a solid, solid kicker,” Monken said. “You have all the confidence in the world when you put him in there.”
By Donald Heath, Savannah Morning News