Oct. 16, 2010
By Jon Cooper
Saturday afternoon was another good day for Georgia Tech kicker Scott Blair but don’t look in the box score to see why.
All you’ll find there is that the senior was 0-for-1 in field goal attempts, with a miss from 41 yards out.
The area where Blair was outstanding was on kickoffs.
He bombed three kickoffs so deep into the end zone that Middle Tennessee State return man Eric Russell, one of the premier return men in the country, averaging 25.7 yards per kick return (46th in the country), had no choice but to take a knee on three different occasions.
Blair’s total tripled the number of touchbacks for Georgia Tech on the season — the only one wasn’t even by him, but by freshman Justin Moore in the season-opener against South Carolina State — and was a boon to a kickoff return unit that entered Saturday’s game ranked sixth in the nation, allowing 17.7 yards per kick return.
After the game, the gravity of the Blair’s kickoffs resonated loud and clear…sort of.
“Scott kicked the ball well on kickoffs,” said Head Coach Paul Johnson. “I don’t know what happened on that field goal. Whether they bobbled the snap or something. It looked like he kind of stopped. I’m not sure what happened. It was kind of a shank.”
Ummm…okay…Understated, maybe, but then, again, Coach Johnson did say he kicked the ball well. Perhaps Special Teams Coach Charles Kelly might shed a bit more light on the subject.
“I was happy with the way Scott kicked the ball,” said Kelly. “We let one [return], we went underneath a block one time and they hit a little crease one time. But the good thing about it, you saw a guy recover. If you’re covering down full speed like you’re supposed to, then sometimes those things are going to happen. You’ve got to get off blocks where it doesn’t turn into a terrible play. You’d like for it to be better but you don’t want it to be a terrible play that costs you points.”
But what about the touchbacks? Doesn’t anyone care about the touchbacks?
You know the kicks that pinned the Blue Raiders back, forcing them into drives starting at their 20, 17, 20, 27 (the one near mistake), 22, and 20. The two returned kicks gained a total of 33 yards (17 and 16 yards).
The extra distance was a matter of design.
“I’ve been getting under the ball a little bit recently. I’ve been practicing kickoffs quite a bit this week,” said Blair. “I hit the ball a lot more solid and had a slower rotation, which means I hit more towards the middle of the ball and it definitely took off.”
So, is this the best day you’ve ever had as far as touchbacks?
“I usually don’t keep track of touchbacks,” said Blair. “I usually keep track of field goals. In a game, I can feel if I’m doing well. I don’t really keep track of numbers too much. But I can feel if I’m having a good day, week, month.”
Thus far, Blair has had all of the above. Already twice named ACC Specialist of the Week, he realizes that he’s having a special year.
“I am having a good year,” he said, adding with a laugh, “It’s better than last year.”
Kelly feels Blair’s the same hard-worker he’s always been. It’s just the nature of kicking.
“The only thing I can assimilate a kicker to is hitting a driver off a tee box,” said Kelly — a fitting analogy, on a day when Georgia Tech’s 2009 ACC Champion Golf Team was recognized at halftime. “Some days when you’re swinging that driver, everything works and you’re hitting it a long way. You may back come out the next morning and change something a little bit and it’s not as good. I think kicking, any time you get in a groove, that’s what you’re trying to do.”
Blair is definitely in a groove, as he entered Saturday 9-for-9. Only five kickers in the nation had more consecutive makes.
After the 42-14 rout, after having discussed his booming kickoffs and superb coverage by the kickoff team (“they’re doing a really good job running down there,” he said.) Blair felt obligated to address the one that got away, his attempt that made him 9-for-10.
“My new goal is to beat nine in a row,” he said.
He’ll get a chance to do that when the Yellow Jackets visit Clemson next Saturday.
“It will be fun. It’s a fun stadium to play in,” said Blair, who was 0-for-1 (a missed 50-yarder) in his only visit to Death Valley in 2008, but was 7-for-7 against the Tigers last season, including 4-for-4 in the ACC Championship Game. “They’re always a good team. Every time I’ve played them here it’s been a close game. So I expect a close game and hopefully it will come down to a field goal. I’ll be ready for it.
“I guess playing certain teams you know your field goals are going to count, be a little more relevant at the end of the game,” he added. “So you put a little more pressure on them. I tend to do a little better in those situations. So I’ve been working on putting more pressure on myself for every field goal.