ATHENS, Ga. - If Mark Richt remains Georgia's football coach for several more years, he knows whom to thank.
Senior punter Drew Butler had a punt blocked with 15 seconds remaining in the Oct. 15 game at Vanderbilt but saved the 2011 season for the Bulldogs by making the tackle that preserved a 33-28 victory. Had Butler not come through, the Commodores would have severely damaged Georgia's chances in the Southeastern Conference East Division race and may have spoiled Richt's chances of returning for a 12th year.
It's already being called "the $2.8 million tackle," a reference to Richt's annual salary.
"I don't know about that," Butler said this week, "but obviously if they would have won that football game, we wouldn't be talking about the same kind of stuff that we're talking about today."
Back in August, Richt wasn't dwelling on speculation that he needed a big season to maintain his role as the dean of SEC coaches at one school. He didn't dwell on it after an 0-2 start or after the Bulldogs defeated Houston Nutt's Ole Miss Rebels in the Sept. 24 game dubbed the "Hot Seat Bowl."
Richt also isn't dealing in the hypothetical of what a Vanderbilt win over Georgia might have meant for him, but his appreciation of Butler's quick reaction is evident.
"I think that his ability to keep his balance after he got hit and spun around was a great tribute to his athleticism and his work ethic," Richt said. "That guy is in great shape. He's strong and flexible, and I think if he was just a big ol' fat punter and that's all he cared about, that and eating Cheetos, I don't think he would have made that play."
Vanderbilt receiver Udom Umoh broke through to block Butler's punt at the Georgia 24-yard line, and Commodores safety Kenny Ladler scooped it up.
"All I can really remember is turning around and the guy was right there trying to pick the ball up," Butler said. "I was fortunate enough to at least get a hand on him, and he kind of stumbled over his own feet. I'm not sure if I actually tackled him."
Butler was in the process of bringing Ladler down at the 22-yard line when Ladler flipped the ball back to cornerback Steven Clark, who fell into a pile at the 20 that included Butler, Ladler and a couple other Commodores.
Vanderbilt took over with seven seconds remaining, but a substitution infraction moved it back to the 25. The Commodores were able to run two plays but failed to get inside the 15.
"I kind of relive the same emotions watching it again," Vanderbilt coach James Franklin said of the block. "You see five black shirts and one opposing shirt. We had a great chance to win the game and have an exciting win, but it didn't work out that way."
That one opposing shirt was on Butler, who managed to keep Georgia's turnaround season turning around.
"We stopped a disaster from turning into a catastrophe," he said. "That's how it goes sometimes. One year you can't finish out games and the next year you're finishing out games and it's a four-game swing."
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.