UGA Sports Communications
Cameron Nizialek has helped to transform Georgia’s punt game into a strength as opposed to this time a season ago.
The graduate transfer from Columbia University is averaging 43.2 yards on 25 kicks, including 13 inside the 20. Still, there’s an area Kirby Smart feels he can improve.
“Cam is doing a good job. I would love for him to be a little more consistent with yardage and hang. We always talk to him about that. That’s a hard job to measure because every punter wants to bang it as far as he can and we want him to hit it as far as he can,” Smart said during Monday’s press conference to preview Saturday’s game against Missouri. “He just has to balance that with the hang time and the distance. He hit that one a little firm. He hit it with a 90-degree driver instead of the 12-degree, but he drove it and we have to cover whatever he kicks. I’m proud of the way he’s kicking, but that’s one that he has to improve on.”
Take Georgia's 45-14 rout of Vanderbilt, for example.
Nizialek only had to punt once against the Commodores, booming a kick 59 yards, but Vandy’s Kalija Lipscomb was able to bring it back 13 yards, the longest return against the Bulldogs this year.
“I feel like I’m doing a pretty good job so far. Coach has been harping on me to get the hang time a little better,” Nizialek said. “This week I out-kicked the coverage a little bit. Against Tennessee, that one punt I had about five seconds of hang time so we were able to cover that and force a fair catch. So that is something I’m going to continue to work on, but I’m happy with how things are going.
So are the Bulldogs.
Thanks to Nizialek, Georgia’s punting game has gone from one of the worst in the SEC to one of the best, and is one of the bigger reasons Georgia is undefeated and having the overall success that it is.
“That’s kind of where our identity is right now,” Nizialek said. “That’s something we preach in practice – strong special teams; we’ve got a strong defense … We’re doing a lot of things well.”
Freshmen getting their shot
For those counting, 17 freshmen have seen game action halfway through the season.
“You determine that by their practice and their awareness. We knew a long time ago that Andrew Thomas was ready. We knew a long time ago that D’Andre Swift was ready,” Smart said. “They proved that in camp and neither of those guys were here mid-year. That is an on-going process and an on-going evaluation. We do not hold anybody back that can help us win.”
In other words, if you show you can play and contribute, you will be on the field.
“If a guy is ready to help us win, then the guy plays. As far as how much, that is up to them. That’s up to the competition in practice and how well they do,” Smart said. “A significant amount of those freshmen you are referring to are helping in special teams and they have been part of the special teams turnaround.”
Rice making an impact
Speaking of freshmen, count linebacker Monty Rice as someone who continues to make an impact.
Although the early enrollee did not start in place of Natrez Patrick against Vanderbilt, Rice saw significant action, teaming with junior Juwan Taylor.
“He has grown up a lot. He was one of the guys that was very fortunate to get spring practice, so he got spring practice, which helped him be a little bit ahead of the other backers that we signed as far as knowing what to do,” Smart said. “We thought all spring that he was going to be a good player because he was really fast. He thumps you when he gets there.”
Smart feels the best is yet to come.
“I thought he got over some of that. He made a play against Mississippi State there at the end of the game. I thought that gave him some confidence,” Smart said. “He was able to make some plays the other day. I think Monty is going to be a mighty fine football player. He is just growing. He has shown a lot of growth and he has a long way to go.”
Pass rush inconsistent
With only three sacks in three conference games, Georgia isn’t getting quite the number of quarterback hits as many thought that it would.
So, is Smart concerned? Not really.
“It’s up and down. It’s not where it needs to be, but we’re not an explosive pass rush team,” Smart said. “I don’t care what everyone wants us to be, that’s just not who we are. We’re strike blockers, play run and we try to convert the pass rush and we try to get the quarterback in passing situations and attack them.”
That doesn’t mean there’s not improvements to be had.
“Some games we are more apt to give pressure than others. We didn’t do a real good job of getting pressure in the last game. It’s something we work on each week and try to improve on,” Smart said. “We need as many players as we can to be helpful to get where we want to go from the pass rush standpoint. There’s so much more to pass rush than sacks and it’s affecting the quarterback and that’s where it was disappointing last week because we didn’t do as good of a job with that as we need to.”
This and that
Left tackle Isaiah Wynn was named the SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week. … Dawg Walk is set for 5:15. … Tom Hart and Jordan Rodgers will call the game for the SEC Network.