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Hump Day Video Breakdown - Mark Richt loves Punt Returns

In this week's Hump Day Video Breakdown, we take a look at a small special teams change and what this could signify for Georgia's approach overall going forward in the season.

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Happy Wednesday, everyone. As we've done in weeks past, the Hump Day Video Breakdown is back to take a look at the previous week's Georgia game and highlight what stood out to us. I had originally intended to cover Keith Marshall's poor pass protection and discuss why that could be the reason we're seeing less of him on the field (aside from the obvious talents of Sony Michel and Nick Chubb), but due to the lack of a game replay being posted on youtube coupled with the fact that I don't live in the United States and don't have a DVR to record the game, I'm working with a limited supply of video footage.

One thing there was a fair amount of footage of this weekend was Troy punting the ball. As such, Georgia got to take some time to work on the punt return game, and the results were not disappointing. First, we saw Isaiah McKenzie return a punt for a 52 yard touchdown, then a few series later saw Reggie Davis return another for 51 yards. Though Davis didn't score, the return itself was impressive enough to certainly warrant another look.

As has been a theme with the Video Breakdown the past couple of weeks, we're taking a look at personnel and how they're being deployed. On the surface, the returns of McKenzie and Davis don't seem that different - both went for over fifty yards, both went to the right and were sprung by a strong initial block. When you look at the setups of the two, however, Mark Richt made a pretty big change in the two quarters that passed from the time that McKenzie scored and Davis threatened.

First, let's take a look at the McKenzie return below:

In the return, you'll notice that Georgia has nine men on the line and two men back (Davis and McKenzie). Troy gets a relatively short punt off that takes a high hop on the initial bounce. Davis puts up a nice block on the gunner and McKenzie comes up to field the ball on the hop. As Matt Stinchcomb right points out, it looks like the cover team let their guard down slightly when the ball bounced, not expecting McKenzie to actually return it. Brendan Douglas throws a beautiful block that springs McKenzie free near the sideline and number sixteen does the rest of the work to cut back across the field and score.

In re-watching this, I can only imagine that the generally conservative Mark Richt almost lost his lunch when McKenzie made the initial decision to field the ball on the hop. Had there been any contact, Georgia certainly wouldn't have been afforded any luxury of interference and the quarters were pretty tight with Davis and the defender fairly close to the ball. Luckily for Georgia, things worked out, but Richt didn't remain static on how he approached things.

Now, let's take a look at Davis's return.

Here, we once again see Georgia starting out with nine men on the line and two back deep (again, Davis and McKenzie). The main difference, however, is that Richt no longer makes the decision of putting one of the return men halfway back and the other deep; he puts both of them at the same depth instead. Davis fields the ball on the bounce, just like with McKenzie's return, and after a great block by Isaiah to spring him, continues down the field for a 51 yard return to put the Dawgs in great field position. Both great results, but now let's back up a bit on why this change could've been made.

Richt is notoriously cautious with his punts - we all know Logan Gray's name for reasons we'd prefer not to - and it could've been that seeing young McKenzie choose to return a punt that bounced dangerously close to a teammate and could easily have been turned over scared him into putting the more surehanded (and seasoned) Davis back deep in a risk management measure. If he were going to do that, though, why not just pull McKenzie entirely? It could've also been that he liked the idea of having Davis back just in case he needed to fair catch, but wanted to keep McKenzie back for the threat of a return as well. The biggest difference between the two plays, though, is that Troy switched from a traditional punt to a rugby punt to try to negate Georgia's return possibilities. This is the reason for Richt's change in strategy and decision to move both players back deep.

After McKenzie's return, Troy switched from a traditional punt to a rugby style punt, the advantages of which are giving the coverage team a bit more time to get down the field (the punter runs to one side for a few steps before actually punting the ball) as well as being able to direct the ball towards the sideline and away from the punt returner. Due to the end over end nature of the punt, though, the ball doesn't get a lot of hangtime, is typically low and flat, and spends a lot of time rolling on the ground. This can be troublesome with only one returner deep, as the ball can take a solid bounce and continue traveling a fair distance on the ground, sometimes leading to an additional 10-20 yards after the initial bounce (indeed, this particular punt was a forty yard punt, but only thirty of those were in the air - the additional ten came after the bounce). The best way to prevent a team from disarming a strong punt return unit with a rugby punt is by putting two strong punt returners back deep to provide a better chance of the ball being fielded and returned (or at the very least, stopped before rolling another ten-fifteen yards deeper down the field).

None of this is earth-shattering, of course, but it's important to note that Georgia will see a few more rugby style punters this year, and it's certainly nice to see Richt making adjustments to ensure that the punt return unit continues to have some venom to it as opposed to simply conceding the fair catch and no return. It's clear that the new blood on the coaching staff have led Richt to re-think his strategy for special teams and promising to see it already paying dividends. Here's to hoping we see more fifty plus yard returns in 2014.

Sound off in the comments on your thoughts, and, as always...

Go Dawgs!