This is the last part of an eight-part series where the Daily Mississippian’s David Collier and Matt Sigler give a position-by-position breakdown of the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl featuring Ole Miss and Georgia Tech. Today, we will take a look at the special teams.
Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze made one of the biggest decisions of his first season before it even started last year. It wasn’t an offensive or defensive call, rather it was on special teams, where he decided to redshirt senior kicker Andrew Ritter and senior punter Tyler Campbell. While the move seemed unorthodox, it ended up paying off this season.
Ritter, who was the kickoff specialist, converted to the field goal kicker this year and saw his progress teeter back and forth. He finished the season 15-for-21 with a long of 52 yards, but none were more memorable than the kick that propelled the Rebels to a victory over rival and then-No. 6 LSU.
Campbell also went through a transition, going from a rugby style he used two seasons ago to the conventional punting style. He finished with an average of 44.7 yards per punt and also recorded 15 punts inside of the 20-yard line and 15 punts over 50 yards.
While the kicking game for Georgia Tech didn’t see much action, it was efficient. Kicker Harrison Butker finished 9-for-13 on the year with a long of 49 yards.
Punter Sean Poole, on the other hand, did see the field quite a bit, punting 39 times for an average of 42.8 yards with 12 of those punts being downed inside the 20 yard line.
In the return game, Ole Miss will rely on sophomore running back Jaylen Walton and freshman Kailo Moore on kickoff and senior running back Jeff Scott on punts.
On kickoff returns, Walton had 471 yards on 22 attempts, good enough for 21.41 yards per return. Moore’s average is 20 yards per return, as he totaled 100 yards on five returns.
On punts, Scott missed five games, but he was a playmaker when he was on the field. He had seven returns for 89 yards with a touchdown.
Georgia Tech’s top kickoff return is freshman safety Lynn Griffin, who has 212 yards on eight returns this season. However, senior safety Jemea Thomas and senior running back David Sims are listed as the kickoff returns.
Thomas is averaging 23.5 yards per return, as he has totaled 141 yards on six attempts. Sims has three returns for 50 yards, which is 16.67 yards per return.
The Yellow Jackets will rely on junior wide receiver DeAndre Smelter on punt returns. Smelter has 10 returns on the season for 120 yards.
Special teams is always a facet of the game that is overlooked. However, it could play a big role in this bowl game between the Rebels and Yellow Jackets.
The advantage here has to go to the Rebels with the experience both Ritter and Campbell have. With Butker being a true freshman kicker, Georgia Tech could be weary sending him out in a high pressure situation.
Ritter has made it known that he can make the clutch kick in a big situation, and if that duty calls, look for him to come through. Campbell’s efficiency could also pin a run-heavy Georgia Tech offense deep in their own territory and could force them to move the ball at length, which is something that could pose a problem if it needs to be done in a quick and time saving manner.
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— Matt Sigler