Rodrigo Blankenship had been nearly automatic on kickoffs this season, but one of his biggest miscues came to open Saturday’s game against Missouri.
The boot landed at the 10-yard line, and Missouri returner Larry Rountree was there to return it. He cut to the left and found a gap for 38 yards, setting up the Tigers with favorable field position.
The ambiance within Sanford Stadium went from deafening excitement to near silence in a matter of seconds, and another below-average kickoff -- by Blankenship’s standards -- made it a precarious start for the Bulldogs’ kickoff specialist.
“My mind just wasn’t right,” Blankenship said. “My head wasn’t in the right place at the beginning of the game.”
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Aside from the two blunders, Blankenship returned to drilling touchbacks as his remaining eight kickoffs found the back of the end zone. The quick shift in performance came as a result of encouragement from his teammates.
When Blankenship returned to the sideline with a tempered confidence, his teammates -- nearly all of them -- greeted him in attempt to get him back on track.
“I’ve got the best teammates in the country, and they got me back into the groove,” Blankenship said. “We’re all our brother’s keepers and we have each other’s back. Even though I wasn’t doing so hot, the team kept plugging away.”
The swing in Blankenship’s confidence was of use not only on kickoffs, but also when the Bulldogs were in need of points. Georgia’s offense posted its season-high offensive total with 696 yards and seven touchdowns in the 53-28 win over Missouri.
But on the four occasions that the Bulldogs finished short of the end zone, Blankenship used his approach of uniquely attacking each field-goal attempt and converted from 37, 43, 29 and 27 yards out. He also added five extra points to account for 17 points scored -- the second-highest total in school history.
Blankenship hasn’t had a significant number of opportunities this season -- only seven field-goal attempts through the first six games -- but that changed Saturday as his four makes ties a career high which was set last season at Kentucky.
On the campaign, Blankenship is now 10-for-11 on field goals.
“He did a good job responding and got his rhythm back,” Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said. “He’s kicking field goals consistently now, and I think Rodrigo is a product of competition. He’s been really tough in that, because he has a lot of pressure on him and he puts a lot of pressure on himself all offseason. When you do that, it prepares you for real-life situations.”
Blankenship’s competition began in preseason practice when David Marvin arrived on campus as a graduate transfer. At the time, Marvin was the lone place-kicker on scholarship before Blankenship was awarded his prior to the Sept. 9 game at Notre Dame.
His teammates concur that the extra work has paid off, and the confidence in the third-year kicker increases each week.
“We have trust in Rod to make field goals every time,” Georgia wide receiver Mecole Hardman said. “We had him to put it through the uprights for us. He makes them in practice, and we expect him to make them in the game.”