ATHENS, Ga. -- Marshall Morgan experienced another couple of hilly points on his rollercoaster ride as Georgia’s place-kicker last Saturday.
In the Bulldogs’ 51-44 win against Tennessee, the freshman’s problems with extra points continued -- he failed on one attempt after banking it off the left upright, having already chipped three successful PATs off the left upright in previous games, plus Tennessee’s Daniel McCullers blocked another PAT try -- and yet he also contributed one of the biggest momentum-shifting plays of the game.
Morgan’s 50-yard field goal at the halftime buzzer helped Georgia tie the score at 30-30, helping the Bulldogs right the ship after a dismal second quarter eliminated a big early advantage.
“That’s like kicking three extra points,” Georgia coach Mark Richt joked about the field goal. “I’m kind of happy.”
Considering the circumstances of the moment, it was probably the biggest play Morgan has made to this point. Although he kicked 52- and 41-yard yard field goals against Missouri, the one against the Vols ended a 20-0 Tennessee run and helped Georgia salvage some momentum entering the second half.
“I feel like we needed that one the most,” said Morgan, comparing this field goal with his two field goals against Missouri. “I feel like we needed that one more.”
Just as impressive as the length was that it came under imperfect circumstances. He briefly delayed his approach to kick when a low snap made it slightly more difficult for holder Adam Erickson to get the ball down.
“I did have to pause for a second and wait,” Morgan said. “I trust Adam. He’s a great holder and I knew he was going to put it down, so I waited like a split second and got it off and drilled it.”
Morgan pumped his fist and sprinted off the field as the ball sailed through the uprights, slapping hands with teammates Michael Bennett and Aaron Murray as he ran to the locker room, having helped the Bulldogs get back into the game. But it was otherwise an eventful night for less positive reasons -- and that only continued the bizarre track Morgan had already been on in the first four games.
He has converted his last four field goals since missing his first try from 45 yards in the opener against Buffalo, but extra points have been an adventure. The Bulldogs have failed to convert four out of 30 PAT tries -- the two that Morgan missed, plus Erickson failed to get the snap down on one PAT against Vanderbilt and McCullers blocked one for Tennessee.
“They blasted through and blocked it. That’s not good,” Richt said. “We’ve had a mishandled snap, we’ve hit a couple off the goalpost. It’s been just a little bit of a comedy of errors, but thankfully when we’ve tried our two-point conversions, we’ve gotten them so it’s kind of made up for it, so to speak. It doesn’t excuse it, but at least it hasn’t cost us a game.”
The Bulldogs hope to keep it that way.
A placekicker in high school, Erickson understands well what Morgan needs from his holder and believes they will get their PAT problems resolved.
“It’s been an adventure, but we’re still living to tell about it, so we’re just grateful that it hasn’t completely cost us a game,” Erickson said. “We’re just working hard to get better every day and trying to treat every kick the same whether it’s a PAT or field goal. Plus we trust Marshall.”
Senior snapper Ty Frix is in his first year working with a new holder in Erickson and new kickers in Morgan and Collin Barber after teaming with Drew Butler and Blair Walsh in each of the previous three seasons. He expected to experience some transitional issues this season and, sure enough, said it has been “a learning process.”
And yet he has been pleased with the job Erickson has done in replacing Butler as the holder.
“I thought that was going to be the biggest transition, but Adam Erickson has done a heck of a job -- almost to the point where it hasn’t been a real transition,” Frix said. “He just kind of stepped in and filled that spot and has done really well. So from my end, it’s been a very pleasant transition from one to the other.”
Fortunately for the Bulldogs, the closest game they’ve played was last Saturday’s seven-point win against Tennessee, so the PAT issues have not affected an outcome. But they also realize that the level of difficulty on their schedule is about to increase dramatically -- starting with Saturday’s visit to unbeaten South Carolina and continuing with a game against Florida at the end of October.
They haven’t seen Morgan’s scattershot PAT kicking damage his confidence thus far, which helps them believe that they will solve those issues in the near future.
“Marshall’s one of those guys who’s fun to be around and he really enjoys what he’s doing -- kicking for Georgia and helping Georgia win, being the guy,” Erickson said. “Sometimes people get amped up when things are going well and they get down when they’re not, but he doesn’t really get down. He just gets professional with it and keeps working at it and has a good work ethic. So we all believe in him.”