I take a back seat to no man where respect for Paul Westerdawg is concerned. I have been giving the proprietor and lead author of the Georgia Sports Blog credit for being the Chuck Yeager of the Dawgosphere since, quite literally, the day Dawg Sports debuted.
However, Paul and I see it differently when it comes to the importance of Blair Walsh. Expressing his concern about the No. 1 kicker on the Bulldog depth chart, Paul remarked:
Speaking as a guy whose height and weight almost exactly mirror the height and weight at which Billy Bennett was listed in the Georgia media guide his senior year, I am a huge fan of the kicking game. If anything, I probably overemphasize the importance of special teams in my assessment of a particular team or a given game.
For once, though, I’m actually a little pleased that the kicking game is an area of uncertainty for the Red and Black. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t want us to be bad on special teams, any more than I want the ‘Dawgs to be bad at anything, anywhere, ever.
However, I see the potential benefits inherent in Mark Richt not having a Rex Robinson, a Kevin Butler, a Billy Bennett, or a Brandon Coutu on the sideline.
Ever since Coach Richt turned the play-calling duties over to Mike Bobo, we have seen an already outstanding Georgia head coach take it to a new level. Starting with the on-side kick---against Virginia Tech, no less!---in the 2006 Chick-fil-A Bowl, Mark Richt has been a bolder coach, reversing the typical evolution of most head honchos by starting out conservative and becoming more of a riverboat gambler over time.
When a coach has a Billy Bennett or a Brandon Coutu at his disposal, fourth and two at the opponent’s 32 yard line is a no-brainer; it’s like having a two-run lead heading into the top of the ninth and having Joshua Fields in the bullpen.
Here’s the thing, though: I don’t want Mark Richt to think fourth and two at the opponent’s 32 yard line is a no-brainer. I want Mark Richt to look at the spot of the ball and look at the uprights so tantalizingly far away and look at the flag flapping in the breeze and wonder, just a little, just for a second.
In that moment, I don’t want him to know with certainty: "My guy’s money from 49 yards, so the smart thing to do is take the points." It’s O.K. if he thinks that; it’s O.K. if he believes that; I just don’t want him to know that, because I want him to have to pause just long enough to think: "Three points isn’t a sure thing."
In that moment, I want Evil Richt to say, "You know what? We don’t have Billy Bennett or Brandon Coutu, but we’ve danged sure got Knowshon Moreno, Matthew Stafford, and nine other guys that didn’t just drive the length of the field hoping to come away with three points. The heck with it; we’re going for it."
Please don’t misunderstand me: I wish Blair Walsh all the best, I will be cheering for him to succeed, and I have every confidence that he will turn out to be the latest in a long line of successful Georgia kickers.
I just want Blair Walsh to be the best dadgum extra-point kicker in the country.
A reliable kicking game is a fine thing, but, to the extent that the slightest twinge of doubt about our placekicking serves to discourage complacency and promote gutsy decisionmaking by a head coach whose bold calls have paid big dividends since the temporary downturn in the middle of the 2006 season, I believe what Paul Westerdawg identifies as a minus might be transformed into an enormous plus.
If the thought of two or three games coming down to the leg of a freshman kicker results in this supremely talented Georgia team being led into battle by a gunslinging Mark Richt with his hand at his holster and the safety off, I not only don’t find that prospect scary; I find it downright invigorating.
If that’s the deal being put before me, then hand me a pen, ‘cause I am ready to sign on the line that is dotted.