Georgia Bulldogs: Blair Walsh

ATHENS, Ga. -- If you're a Georgia fan who had much confidence when Marshall Morgan took the field last season to attempt a field goal -- or heck, even an extra point -- consider yourself among the rare few.

Like many freshman kickers, Morgan's first season was rocky to say the least. Those who are any good, however, generally take a big step in Year 2, and Morgan is certainly doing that.

[+] EnlargeMarshall Morgan
AP Photo/Wade PayneGeorgia kicker Marshall Morgan has made 13 of 15 field goals he has attempted this season, and is 22-of-22 on extra point tries.
This week he was named as one of 20 semifinalists for the Lou Groza Award -- which goes to the nation's top kicker -- and won the SEC's Special Teams Player of the Week award for the third time in the six games since he returned from a two-game suspension to open the season.

“He's had some bombs and I don't even think about it now,” Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray said. “His 50-yarder he had the other day [a 49-yard kick against Florida], I wasn't even concerned at all. I was like, 'All right, it's going in.' I wasn't even watching. I turned around and he made it and I was like, 'Hey, attaboy' and gave him a little high five and that was it. No worries at all.”

Compare that attitude to last season, when Morgan started the season in a funk on PATs and ended it by hitting just two of his last five field-goal tries, and the difference is striking. Morgan admits that he sensed his teammates' trepidation when he would take the field, which makes his success this season even more gratifying.

“[They made] just little remarks that aren't meant to hurt you, but it sticks on, you know? So now it's kind of like you look back and put it in their face,” Morgan laughed.

The sophomore has had plenty of reasons to smile this season. He leads the nation in made field goals per game (2.2) and ranks 12th (first in the SEC) with an average of 10.2 points per game. He's a perfect 22-for-22 on extra points and his only two misses out of the 15 field goals he has attempted came from 52 (North Texas) and 39 (Tennessee) yards, while his long of 56 yards set a new record at Tennessee's Neyland Stadium.

“I feel like I'm starting to earn my scholarship a little bit,” Morgan said. “Before I felt kind of like, I don't know, like last year, it was like average kicking. And this year, I feel like I'm actually working towards a goal and actually achieving a goal slowly but surely.”

Asked about the difference in their kicker from last season to this fall, several Bulldogs mentioned his improved maturity -- an area that Morgan mentioned too.

“He was a little bit of an airhead when he first got here. He still is, but he's more mature,” receiver Michael Bennett cracked.

Morgan is also more confident on the field after an offseason of hard work and a transitional first year in college where he – like all kickers – had to adjust to playing in front of bigger crowds and kicking off the ground instead of off a tee.

That, Bulldogs coach Mark Richt said, is the biggest factor as a sophomore kicker makes significant improvement from his first college season.

“The first time you do it, you go from kicking in a high school stadium with 500 people or maybe 5,000 people,” Richt said. “You're kicking off a tee and the rush isn't the same, and then you go into these stadiums where there's 80, 90 or 100,000 people inside and there are people watching on TV. Every single game, you know that every kick you make is probably going to make a difference in winning or losing, or even every extra point.

“That's kind of hard to adjust to when you're not used to that, and it's probably a little bit of a shock to them.”

It has certainly been the trend at Georgia. In 2008, Blair Walsh hit just 65 percent of his field goals as a freshman before posting two of the most consistent seasons in school history as a sophomore (90.9 percent) and junior (86.96). Now Morgan is in position to post one of the best percentages in school history if he keeps kicking at the same clip down the stretch.

“I dreamed of it,” Morgan said when asked if he expected to enjoy this kind of success. “Of course I believed in myself, but now that it's actually happening, it's a lot better feeling.”

Competition also helped him raise his game this season, Morgan said. After a mediocre first season, and then an offseason arrest for boating under the influence that forced him to miss the first two games, Morgan knew he wasn't guaranteed a job when he returned to the active roster.

Patrick Beless went 2-for-2 on field goals and 10-for-10 on PATs, so Morgan had to produce once he came back for the North Texas game -- and he has.

“Patty did a great job. He didn't miss,” Morgan said. “So just in the back of my mind I was like, 'I could lose my job, so I've really got to take it serious.' I just hunkered down and just really no jokes on the field. I just really did my kicking and that's what I still do now and it's working.”
Marshall MorganRadi Nabulsi/ESPNGeorgia coach Mark Richt seems to have more faith in kicker Marshall Morgan (13) for the 2013 season after putting him through the paces this spring.

ATHENS, Ga. -- Kicking in the SEC as a true freshman is rarely a smooth ride -- and Marshall Morgan can attest.

Performing as a place-kicker in a packed SEC stadium versus the far smaller audiences at the average high school football stadium simply requires an adjustment period, and some players never make an adequate transition.


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Recruiting flashback: Blair Walsh 

February, 19, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- As bounceback stories go, Blair Walsh’s is not only extreme, but it happened with amazing speed.

[+] EnlargeBlair Walsh
Radi Nabulsi/ESPN.comBlair Walsh struggled as a senior at Georgia in 2011 but excelled last fall as an NFL rookie.
Walsh, whose draft stock slipped a bit with an erratic senior season at Georgia in 2011, not only returned to the form that made him one of the nation’s top kickers in 2009 and 2010, he exceeded it. As a rookie with the Minnesota Vikings last fall, Walsh enjoyed one of the most productive seasons of any placekicker in NFL history, earning Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors by hitting 35 of 38 field goals -- including 10-for-10 from 50 yards and beyond -- and all 36 of his PATs.

He credits a mechanical change for the turnaround, as his accuracy returned once he slowed his approach to the ball before attempting a field goal. And just like that, Walsh was back to performing like the Lou Groza Award finalist he had been during his college career -- one that started with him ranked as ESPN’s No. 7 kicking prospect when he signed with Georgia in 2008.

Looking back on his experiences as a recruit, Walsh said he settled on becoming a Bulldog early in the process because of the opportunity to play right away since Brandon Coutu’s eligibility expired after the 2007 season. And he took advantage of that chance, becoming the leading scorer in SEC history with 412 career points.

Walsh discussed the decision to attend Georgia and his experiences as a recruit with DawgNation’s David Ching on Monday afternoon. Here are some of his recollections:


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ATHENS, Ga. -- Here’s a breakdown of Georgia’s last seven recruiting classes and what they managed to accomplish in college and beyond:

2006
ESPN top five classes: Florida, USC, Texas, Georgia, Notre Dame
Georgia’s ranking: 4

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About Them Dawgs: Marshall Morgan

December, 10, 2012
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Editor’s note: Each day between now and Georgia’s Capital One Bowl date with Nebraska, we will review the season for a key Bulldogs player and attempt to project what’s next. Today we’ll look at kicker Marshall Morgan.

No. 13 Marshall Morgan
Freshman/Place kicker
8-for-13 FGs, 58-for-62 PATs

Role in 2012: Morgan took over field-goal and PAT duties and held on to both jobs throughout an up-and-down true freshman season.

The good: The freshman hit a couple of clutch field goals leading into halftime -- a 50-yarder against Tennessee that tied the score at 30 and a bank shot off the upright to give the Bulldogs a 16-14 halftime lead against Kentucky -- and showed off more than enough kicking power to become a weapon for Georgia. Morgan also overcame early hiccups converting PATs (he missed four of his first 33) by hitting his last 29 in a row.

(Read full post)

Georgia’s recent success against Florida has been a long time in coming. The Bulldogs had not beaten the Gators in back-to-back seasons in more than two decades, dating back to 1988-89. Florida has an 18-5 record over Georgia since 1990 so the rivalry has been mostly one-sided. But thanks to some recruiting success, Mark Richt has turned the annual showdown in Jacksonville, Fla., back into one of the most highly contested battles of the year.

And he did it with some ringers from the Sunshine State.

Quarterback Aaron Murray has struggled against the Gators but is 2-1 in his career against them. In his first win he completed four passes to tight end Orson Charles of Tampa, Fla. All-SEC kicker Blair Walsh, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., always said the Florida game was the biggest of the year and he scored 22 points against the Gators in his career. Keeping Murray upright this year was a freshman from Jacksonville, right tackle John Theus.

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UGA's special teams struggles continue 

October, 21, 2012
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LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Imagine if you dare what might have happened if Connor Norman hadn’t saved Georgia by recovering an onside kick with just less than four minutes to play in the Bulldogs’ 29-24 win at Kentucky on Saturday.

Georgia had just allowed Kentucky to tiptoe back into the game with a 75-yard touchdown drive and was clinging to a 5-point lead when Wildcats kicker Joseph Mansour tapped an onside kick that had nearly trickled the necessary 10 yards when he crouched to dive on the loose ball. Only Norman raced to dive on the ball a split second before him, preventing Kentucky from attempting a potential game-winning drive that could have devastated the Georgia program and its fans.

“Connor was heads up to go in there and snatch it and be strong enough to convince the officials that it was his. So it was a huge play,” a relieved Georgia coach Mark Richt said after the game. “It was a lot of huge plays in the game, but Connor did a great job.”

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Editor’s note: Georgia’s football season is halfway over and the Bulldogs will take this weekend off before resuming SEC play next Saturday at Kentucky. We’ll take a look at a different position group each day this week and evaluate how it performed in the first half of the season in our DawgNation midseason report cards.

ATHENS, Ga. -- A year after special teams play was a glaring weakness for Georgia, it was more of a mixed bag for the Bulldogs in the first half of this season.

Todd Gurley returned Georgia's first kickoff of the season for a 100-yard touchdown against Buffalo, but South Carolina’s Ace Sanders returned a punt for a touchdown last week that all but eliminated Georgia’s chances for victory.

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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.

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Solid debut for UGA special teams 

September, 2, 2012
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ATHENS, Ga. -- One of Georgia’s greatest areas of emphasis during the offseason was improving its atrocious results on special teams -- particularly in covering kicks.

So how did the Bulldogs fare in their first time out after inserting more starters and key players on the special teams units? Pretty well, actually.

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ATHENS, Ga. -- Count Mark Richt among those who are curious about how Georgia’s kicking situation will shake out in Saturday’s opener against Buffalo.

The Bulldogs’ head coach said after Wednesday’s practice that freshman kicker Marshall Morgan and punter Collin Barber’s readiness to perform is what he will be most interested to evaluate this weekend.

“Kickers and punters,” Richt said, “I’m very interested to see how that goes.”

Richt added that he is intrigued to watch how the Bulldogs’ tailbacks -- including freshman newcomers Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall -- acquit themselves in their first college game.

“It’s going to be fun to watch our backs,” he said. “Those would probably be the top two right now for me.”

(Read full post)

Twenty-eight days remain until Georgia kicks off its season opener against Buffalo on Sept. 1. In the days counting down to the opener, DawgNation will profile, with our “Around the Hedges in 80 Days” series, a Bulldogs player we expect to make an impact. We will review each player’s career thus far and project his long-term potential as we progress through our alphabetical list, from center David Andrews to receiver Rantavious Wooten.

28. Marshall Morgan
Freshman, Place-kicker
6-foot-3, 201 pounds



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Editor’s note: With Georgia set to open preseason camp on Thursday, DawgNation will break down each position group and the storylines to watch in August. After examining Georgia’s offensive and defensive position groups, we complete the series today with the Bulldogs’ special teams units.


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Gators game preview: Georgia

June, 27, 2012
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ESPN’s GatorNation brings you the 30 things you need to know about Florida’s upcoming 2012 season. For 30 weekdays we’ll preview games, talk about trends, spotlight players and positions, and give you pretty much everything you need to know to be ready for the season before the Sept. 1 opener against Bowling Green.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- GatorNation is previewing each of Florida’s 2012 opponents. Today is Georgia (Oct. 27 in Jacksonville, Fla.).

GEORGIA

Mark Richt and Will Muschamp
AP/Photo Stephen MortonGeorgia coach Mark Richt and Florida coach Will Muschamp exchange pleasantries before their first game last year in Jacksonville, Fla.
2011 record: 10-4 (7-1 SEC), lost to Michigan State 33-30 (3 OT) in Outback Bowl.

Coach: Mark Richt, 12th season (106-40).

Series record: Georgia leads 47-40-2 (Note: Georgia records indicate Bulldogs lead 47-39-2).

Top returners: QB Aaron Murray (238-403-14, 3,149 yards, 35 TDs); RB Isaiah Crowell (850 yards, 5 TDs); LB Jarvis Jones (70 tackles, 13.5 sacks); S Bacarri Rambo (55 tackles, 8 INTs).

Did you know? Murray needs just 14 more TD passes to surpass David Greene's school record (72).

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Vikings take Walsh in sixth round

April, 28, 2012
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Blair Walsh joined Saturday’s NFL draft parade of former Georgia players when the Minnesota Vikings selected the former Bulldogs kicker with the 175th overall pick in the sixth round.

Walsh is the third place-kicker selected in this year’s draft, following Texas A&M’s Randy Bullock and Greg Zuerlein of Missouri Western, both of whom came off the board Saturday.

He could compete for immediate playing time, as Minnesota experienced its share of kicking problems a year ago. Vikings veteran Ryan Longwell was 25th among NFL kickers in accuracy last year, hitting just 78.6 percent of his field-goal tries (22 of 28).

"The NFL is a fast moving-league and players' careers don’t seem to last too long anymore," Walsh said. "So I don’t know if you can pressure Ryan, I just know he is a great kicker and I’m excited to compete with him. "

(Read full post)

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