While he has friends at Georgia, Georgia Tech kicker Harrison Butker has not been to Athens since Nov. 29, 2014, when his 53-yard field goal at the end of regulation sent the Tech-Georgia game to overtime.
“I don’t think it’s my place,” said Butker, who has several former classmates from Westminster at Georgia.
When he and the Yellow Jackets arrive at Sanford Stadium Saturday, Butker said he’ll revisit the spot of the most memorable and clutch kick of his career.
“I’ll probably go stand at that – what – the 43-yard line on the left hash and try to remember that kick,” he said.
Given how close games between Tech and Georgia have been, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Saturday’s game again came down to Butker’s foot. Butker’s holder, punter Ryan Rodwell, would be all for that.
“Absolutely,” Rodwell said. “I wouldn’t want it to come down to any other way, to be honest. It’s a great feeling when we go out there and we help the team out, put the weight on our shoulders and handle business. It’s a great feeling.”
An oddity from Butker’s kick in 2014 worth re-telling. When Georgia called timeout to ice Butker, it was a huge break for Tech. The play clock was down to about five seconds when time was called, and Butker had yet to set himself and give Rodwell the nod to call for the snap. Tech was out of timeouts, so they would have either had to rush the kick or take a delay-of-game penalty, which would have pushed the kick to 58 yards. Given that Butker’s kick from 53 yards barely tumbled over the crossbar, 58 yards might have been out of his range.
“I remember turning around, looking at the (play) clock, looking back at Harrison, telling him he needs to hurry up, hurry up,” Rodwell said.
Butker didn’t even hear him yelling, Rodwell said, so dialed in was he to take the kick. With the timeout, Butker could settle himself and line up at his own pace.
You can see it at the 2:27:30 mark.
Connections to Smart
Quarterback Justin Thomas and defensive line coach Mike Pelton both have a history with Georgia coach Kirby Smart.
Smart was Thomas’ recruiter when he was defensive coordinator at Alabama and Thomas was a star quarterback at Prattville (Ala.) High, and helped secure Thomas’ commitment, which he eventually withdrew to come to Tech.
“It was cool,” Thomas said. “I talked to him probably once, twice a week. We had a good relationship.”
Thomas still has Smart’s phone number, he said, “unless he changed it.”
Pelton and Smart both got their start in coaching at Valdosta State in 2000. Smart coached defensive backs, Pelton coached the defensive line. The defensive coordinator was Will Muschamp, now the coach at South Carolina. Pelton and Smart shared an office. He described both of them as ambitious young coaches, and said he wasn’t surprised at Smart’s rise.
“You could see it in him, very knowledgeable, loved the game, had a passion for the game, had a passion for the kids,” Pelton said. “It’s not surprising.”
Pelton was there one season and moved to Troy State. Smart was there two seasons before going to Florida State as a graduate assistant. The head coach was Chris Hatcher, who later as coach at Georgia Southern was a candidate for the Tech job that went to Paul Johnson. Hatcher is now at Samford. That's a pretty remarkable staff at a Division II school. On one side of the ball, there were two future SEC coaches and an ACC position coach.
Amarlo Herrera is a former UGA linebacker now with the Colts. He tweeted at Tech A-back J.J. Green and former Tech All-American guard Shaquille Mason, who responded.
Mitchell, Davis improving
Linebackers Brant Mitchell and P.J. Davis have been particularly productive the past two weeks.
Mitchell had 10 total tackles against Virginia Tech, a career high, and then had 12 against Virginia. Getting back in form from a hamstring injury, Davis had six tackles against the Hokies and then 14 in the Virginia game, tying his career high.
Defensive coordinator Ted Roof gave credit to the Tech defensive line for keeping them free to make plays but also Mitchell and Davis themselves. He said “they were doing a better job of getting off blocks and avoiding blockers in space, but they’re doing a better job of disengaging from blocks.”
Roof on the Georgia offense: “They’ve got a lot of balance in their attack with their perimeter skill players. They’ve got a lot of depth at running back, probably as deep at running back as any team we’ve played, with really, really quality backs, and a quarterback that can throw it for miles.”
SEC vs. ACC
Johnson was asked, as he often is before the game, on the standing of the ACC vs. the SEC. In 2014, the ACC was 5-3 against the SEC. The SEC won in 2015, 6-4. Thus far, the ACC leads 3-2.
“We’re probably the only team that’s an underdog this year,” Johnson said of the SEC-ACC matchups this weekend. “I saw where I think Clemson and Louisville are probably three-touchdown favorites. Florida State’s probably a little less than that and we are what we are. I think it’s just an example that the ACC doesn’t have to take a backseat in football to anybody.”
More from Johnson
Johnson on his memories of Tech’s 2014 win in Athens: “I remember the terrible call down on the goal line where they took the ball out of the quarterback’s hands after about 20 seconds. It was a 14-point swing. That’s the play I remember.”
Johnson then made reference to the game-tying field goal from Harrison Butker and D.J. White’s interception before returning to the Damian Swann’s strip from quarterback Justin Thomas on the Georgia 1-yard line that he returned for a 99-yard touchdown return.
“That play should have been blown dead a long time before it was, which made a 14-point swing.”
According to the Weather Channel, the forecast for Saturday is sunny with a high of 68 and no chance of rain.