Chris Milton paid for his third punt block of the season with a jammed finger.
“But it’s nothing,” the Georgia Tech special-teams ace said. “I’ll do it 10 more times if I have to.”
Given Milton’s rate, it may happen. Milton’s block Saturday against Syracuse followed blocks against Elon and BYU.
“It’s hard to block a punt, and he’s got a gift, and he’s done a great job of taking the ball off the foot,” special-teams coordinator Dave Walkosky said.
Milton’s hat trick apparently is a school record. While the Tech record book doesn’t have a category for blocked punts, NCAA records for most blocked punts in a season list 17 players with three or more, none from Tech.
The record is seven, and only eight players have blocked more than three. Coach Paul Johnson noted Milton’s quickness off the snap and help from teammates such as Brandon Watts. Against Syracuse, Watts and Charles Perkins charged up the middle at the Orange’s three-man shield, allowing Milton to run unimpeded at punter Riley Dixon.
“Usually the three big guys in the back, they usually go for Brandon and let me go free,” Milton said.
Tech took possession at the Syracuse 24-yard line, setting up Tech’s first touchdown. The week before, Watts overwhelmed BYU’s protection, enabling Milton to deflect the punt.
“Every guy on that team is doing the right thing to get him to be just the lucky guy through,” Walkosky said. “There’s guys giving unbelievable effort that aren’t getting the glory and Chris knows that, too.”
Johnson did not subscribe to the idea that the blocks were correlated with having a full-time special-teams coach, a hire he made before the 2011 season after the dismissal of co-offensive line coach Todd Spencer.
“Coach Walkosky’s done a good job, but we’re running a lot of the same returns we ran when coach (Charles) Kelly was the return guy,” Johnson said.
The three blocked punts, though, are one more than the Jackets had in Johnson’s four seasons without Walkosky.
Johnson said that having a full-time special-teams coach has benefited the specialists, as they have a coach with them for the entirety of practice. Previously, as special-teams duties were split among position coaches, the kickers, punters, long snappers and holders were left by themselves for much of practice.
Punter Sean Poole has improved considerably with Walkosky. He averaged 39.6 yards in his first three seasons, but is at 44.7 yards this season, which would be top 15 nationally if he had enough punts to qualify. The punt team’s net has also improved to 37.8 from 36.9 in 2011 and 34.6 in 2012.
With kicker Harrison Butker, the kickoff net also is better. The average opponent start is at the 25-yard line, about four yards better than last season. With return specialist Jamal Golden out for the season, opponent punt net (37.0) is better than 2011 (38.1), but worse than 2012 (35.8). The statistics incorporate the blocked punts.
Tech also had a better average starting field position off opponent kickoffs in 2012, at the 27, compared with the 25 this season. Golden returned two kickoffs last season for touchdowns, Tech’s first two touchdowns off a kickoff since 1998.
Butker is 5-for-8 on field goals, with four of his makes from beyond 40 yards.
There have been no blow-ups this season yet, with the possible exception of a failed point-after try against Miami that kept the Jackets from tying the score in the fourth quarter. It has not been perfect, but Milton’s jammed finger would suggest improvement.
Said Milton of Walkosky, “He brings a lot of energy to the game, makes you want to succeed, makes you want to do better for the team.”