ATHENS, Ga. — Georgia allowing a kickoff return for a touchdown used to be a once-a-decade occurrence.
Now it's once a game.
The Bulldogs have allowed kickoff returns for touchdowns in consecutive contests, with Florida's Jeff Demps scoring on a 99-yard return last Saturday and Vanderbilt's Andre Hal scoring from 96 yards out on Oct. 15. Georgia ranks 109th among the 120 Bowl Subdivision teams in kickoff coverage, allowing 25 yards a return.
"Early in the year, we were doing some things fundamentally extremely well," Bulldogs coach Mark Richt said Tuesday. "Then it got especially sloppy in this last ballgame. Guys were just not avoiding blocks in the right direction. If everybody avoids blocks properly, then you've got all your gaps taken care of.
"When you have guys just kind of ad-libbing, then you get these creases."
Georgia allowed only one kickoff return for a touchdown in Vince Dooley's final 10 seasons (1979-88), with that coming from Georgia Tech's Gary Lee in 1985. The Bulldogs gave up one in Jim Donnan's five seasons -- Tennessee's Leonard Scott had a 99-yarder in 1999 -- and didn't allow any in Richt's first eight seasons.
Auburn's Demond Washington broke that streak with a 99-yarder in 2009, and now the Bulldogs have been torched in two straight games.
"We are challenging a lot of the guys who play more scrimmage downs to get involved in more than just the opening kickoff," Richt said. "I think everybody can understand how crucial that that play is, so there will be other guys involved personnel-wise."
With a lunchtime start against New Mexico State, Georgia players will have plenty of time to settle in front of a television Saturday night. The Arkansas-South Carolina game kicks off at 7:15 on ESPN and could result in Georgia leading the SEC East if the Razorbacks win, but then there is the Alabama-LSU showdown at 8.
The Bulldogs plan to follow the game in Fayetteville but expect to be riveted to the one in Tuscaloosa.
"That's like a national championship game," safety Shawn Williams said. "I like to watch their defenses and then compare our defense to theirs. People ask if I feel if our defense is in the category with theirs, and I always say yes. My father always told me never put another man ahead of you and always think that you're the best. That's the mentality you've got to have."
Said quarterback Aaron Murray: "It's going to be a bloody game. They're both going to be knocking the crap out of each other. It's going to be a lot of fun to watch."
Odds and ends
Richt said the chances of freshman receiver Malcolm Mitchell playing Saturday are "close to zero." ... The Bulldogs are 70-17-2 in homecoming games and have won four straight since a 24-22 loss to Vanderbilt in 2006. ... New Mexico State is 0-13 all-time against current SEC teams and has been outscored 118-23 in three previous games against Georgia.
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...