It likely wasn’t an inclusive list, but Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said there are at least three things he can count on this season:
Harrison Butker will kick the ball really well;
And he would like to think that the team will play hard;
“Special teams for most games have been a positive,” Johnson said. “There are still things we can correct.”
And then, with his customary dry wry, Johnson said, “I’ve found that when you have a good kicker that helps.”
Focusing on special teams, Butker has been one of the best in the ACC this season.
He is tied for first in point-after attempt percentage (100, 20 of 20).
He has hit all four attempts this season and is the only player in the top 10 in field goals made to not miss one.
Though last in kickoff coverage, Georgia Tech is third in touchbacks (24).
Most of the rest of the special teams have also performed well:
The Yellow Jackets have blocked two field goals;
J.J. Green returned a kickoff for a touchdown in last week’s loss to Pittsburgh, tying the Yellow Jackets with four other teams for the conference lead;
The Yellow Jackets are third in punt return average (15);
The Yellow Jackets are second in kickoff returns (28);
And all this, as Johnson somewhat sarcastically points out, is being done without someone whose sole job is to be special teams coordinator.
Johnson broke form and hired a coach to specifically work with the group four years ago. The first coordinator was Dave Walkosky. He was replaced two years later by Ray Rychelski, who left the program in January. Johnson said the change was made because he didn’t see any noticeable difference in the performances of the team.
In four years with a special-teams coach, Tech’s kickoff return team’s average ranking was 58th. In Johnson’s first four years, it was 91st. The team’s average rank in net punting between 2012 and 2015 was 84th. Between 2008 and 2012, buoyed by a 17th-place finish in 2009 — the team’s best season finish in Johnson’s tenure by 28 places — the Jackets’ average was 70th.
The Jackets’ 3-9 season, their poorest since 1994, was a multi-faceted failure, but special teams underperformance played a role. Tech’s kickoff return game ranked 106th at 19.03 yards per return.
Punter Ryan Rodwell also lacked consistency; he was 95th in the country in punt average at 39.3 yards per punt.
Lamar Owens, who coaches the A-backs, was put in charge of the special teams this season with the other assistants taking over different groups.
“Our staff has done a good job,” Johnson said. “Each guy has taken ownership of that unit.”