This isn’t a story to state the case for Georgia place-kicker Rodrigo Blankenship to earn a scholarship. This is a story comparing what Blankenship did in his first season of playing time to what other Georgia placekickers of the past did in their inaugural seasons.
Whether Blankenship winds up on scholarship or not by the start of the 2017 season is up to the Georgia coaching staff.
But as for how Blankenship did, he did wind up on the All-SEC Freshman Team and was named to the Football Writers Association of America’s 2016 Freshman All-America Team.
As Georgia’s kickoff specialist, Blankenship totaled 20 touchbacks on 55 kickoffs in 2016.
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Blankenship finished the season 14-of-18 kicking with a long of 49 yards and made all 26 of his extra-point attempts. After becoming the primary field goal kicker against Mississippi, and after missing his first career attempt, Blankenship held a streak of 10 made field goals — with a game-winner against Kentucky included in the mix.
While Blankenship only attempted one field goal longer than 50 yards, a miss against TCU in the Liberty Bowl, he did show consistency from 45 yards and closer.
Since the rubber tee block was done away with prior to the 1989 football season, place-kickers have been forced to attempt field goals and extra points off of the ground. While Georgia greats Kevin Butler and Rex Robinson are still among the best place-kickers in program history, only place-kickers from1989 to the present were compared to Blankenship for the purpose of this story.
Here’s how Blankenship’s season compared:
Hap Hines, 1996
In his first season, Hines made seven of his nine tries, which was good for a 77.8 percentage — the same as Blankenship, albeit Blankenship attempted double the amount Hines did.
But Hines missed an extra point, which then became an issue as a sophomore in 1997. Hines went on to miss three point-after attempts in 1997 and one in 1998. By the end of Hines’ career, his range improved, to where he made a 54-yard attempt as a senior.
Billy Bennett, 2000
Bennett arrived to Georgia as a walk-on but earned a scholarship early into his freshman season. He had a similar path to the starting job as Blankenship, considering he didn’t get in until his third career game. The lone difference is Bennett did so in his true freshman year.
Bennett had a great first season, converting 13 of his 14 field goal attempts. Bennett’s freshman season field-goal percentage of 92.9 in 2000 still ranks as a Georgia single-season best. His long was from 49 yards and he made the The Sporting News’ Freshman All-America Team, along with Freshman All-SEC. Sound familiar?
Bennett went on to be one of the best place-kickers in program history. His range improved significantly as he hit a 55-yarder as a sophomore. During his career, however, Bennett never logged a touchback on a kickoff.
Andy Bailey, 2004
Bailey was Georgia’s primary field-goal kicker only for his redshirt freshman season in 2004. He made 14-of-20 field-goal tries and 36-of-37 extra points. His long was 46 yards and he didn’t attempt a kick over 50 yards.
Bailey also went 3-of-6 from the 40-49 range, missed two attempts from the 30-39 distances and was unable to convert one from 20-29.
Bailey became a backup as a redshirt sophomore.
Brandon Coutu, 2005
After attempting three field goals as a freshman in 2004, Coutu stepped up as Georgia’s primary place-kicker before his sophomore season. Coutu got plenty of game action, making 23 of his 29 field-goal attempts while making all 45 of his extra points.
Coutu showed some long range by making three of five kicks in 2005 from 50 yards or longer. Of his 77 kickoffs that season, Coutu logged 22 touchbacks. Compared to Blankenship’s 36.4 percent touchback rate, Coutu’s was 28.6.
Coutu went on to have the most consistent stint of any Georgia place-kicker, logging a Georgia-best career percentage of 80.3.
Blair Walsh, 2008
Walsh arrived to Georgia as the nation’s top-ranked prep place-kicker and immediately stepped into the starting role. Walsh made 15-of-23 field-goal attempts as a freshman and made all 50 of his point-after tries.
Walsh’s long as a freshman was 52 yards against Georgia Southern while going 2-of-5 from over 50 yards. Walsh had four touchbacks in 77 kickoff attempts, although it should be noted that the Bulldogs were doing a lot of directional kicking in those days as opposed to trying to boom it out of the end zone. Walsh has 210 touchbacks in the NFL, so it’s not like he didn’t have the leg.
Walsh stayed steady for three years before a down senior season in which he missed 14 field-goal attempts (21-of-35). Walsh was still drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in the sixth round of the 2012 draft, although he was released after some inconsistencies during the 2016 NFL season.
Marshall Morgan, 2012
Morgan came to Georgia highly coveted, but struggled as a freshman. While he had a long of 52 yards against Missouri, Morgan missed six field-goal attempts (8-of-14) and four extra points (63-of-67). Three of the four field-goal misses came in between 40 and 49 yards.
Morgan had 14 touchbacks on 38 kickoffs, good for a 36.8 percentage.
Morgan improved dramatically in his career at Georgia. He went 22-of-24 with a long of 56 in 2013 and only missed one extra point in his final three seasons.
There do seem to be some of parallels to Blankenship’s freshman season when compared to others. There are some factors at play that the stats don’t account for, however, such as directional kicking on kickoffs and coaches’ trust in certain situations. Not to mention, there was a major kickoff rule change in 2012 that moved the starting point from the 30-yard line to the 35.
While Blankenship will need to improve his range in games, it’s happened before at Georgia and evidenced with Bennett’s progression in just one season. Time will tell whether Blankenship earns a scholarship at Georgia. But for now after his freshman season, he’s in fairly good company among the program’s place-kickers.