Students began to turn around. They couldn’t watch anymore.
The tension in the air was palpable. The glances students gave each other resembled the looks you might see exchanged in a horror film, but this wasn’t a scary movie – at least, it wasn’t the traditional kind.
Instead, Adam Griffith was walking out to kick a field goal – from only 20 yards out.
That was the kind of year he was having, but he wasn’t the only one on the special teams unit struggling. Ray Guy runner-up JK Scott looked like a shadow of his former self.
“When you’re a kicker, you have to have an assassin-type attitude,” coach Nick Saban said. “When you go out there, you got one shot to make it work. If it doesn’t work, you’re going to be in trouble.”
Alabama started that game against Ole Miss by fumbling the kick return inside its own 20-yard line. Not to be outdone, running back Kenyan Drake also fumbled a kick return inside of Alabama’s 20-yard line during the second quarter.
It was shaping up to be another typical outing from the Alabama special teams, but amidst all the blunders and fumbles, the unit found some consistency.
The students could turn around now – Griffith made his first field goal since Nov. 15 of last year. Since the Ole Miss game, he has made three more field goals across the last two games. His current streak of four is Griffith’s longest streak since he started last year making 7-of-7.
Later in the game, Griffith executed an onside kick that cornerback Tony Brown was able to recover. Alabama doesn’t often need an onside kick to fight its way back into a game, but that was the Crimson Tide’s first successful attempt since 2007.
“Mid-season last year, when my back started to get hurt, my confidence went down because, you know, I couldn’t really kick very good or very much,” Griffith said.
Griffith said he felt better at the beginning of the season, but perhaps he still needed to prove to himself that he could put one through the uprights. He also said a lot of things need to go just right before his foot ever connects with the football, but whatever the problem was, it seems it may be fixed now.
For the past two years, the narrative has been how will Alabama’s special teams cost the Crimson Tide, but last Saturday the unit might be more responsible than others for the 38-10 victory over No. 8 Georgia.
With Alabama up 10-3 late in the second quarter, the game was shaping up to be a defensive struggle, but then cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown.
“Momentum is big in a game like this, and we put together a good drive, and then we made a couple of big plays, and that sort of changed the game completely,” Saban said. “The block punt was big. He did a really good job. It was a good design, and he finished it very, very well.”
That was the second punt block Alabama has caused this season, but before that, the Crimson Tide hadn’t blocked one since Sept. 21, 2013. That’s also the last time the team scored off of one.
In 2014, Scott punted multiple times in 11 games and he always averaged at least 42 yards, and in six games, his average was over 48 yards. His average long traveled 59 yards. He hasn’t gotten close to that this season, but he’s shown some flashes of his old self.
In the Georgia game, Scott punted seven times for an average of 41 yards and a season-best long of 54. The unfavorable weather conditions surrounding what is easily one of his best outings this season could mean he is returning to form.
Special teams is one of three phases of the game, and Alabama treats it the same way it does offense and defense. Saban said he saw some improvement in punt and kick returns on Saturday, and he also thought the kickoff coverage was good.
“It’s something that I really take seriously,” linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton said. “I mean, every play is important, so I take that job really seriously. I try my best. I treat that just like a defensive play.”
For all the progress the unit has made, its momentum must be sustained, for the team can’t afford another loss this season – not when it has so much left to play for.
“I think our players showed a competitive character today [Saturday] that I hold in really high esteem,” Saban said. “I think it does go a long way to establishing an identity, but that’s something that you develop a reputation over time, so now we need to do it with consistency.”
Source:: The Crimson White Sports