ATHENS — There are no points given out for a touchback, and yet those seem to get the most attention when Rodrigo Blankenship’s season is discussed. The Georgia place-kicker has a theory why.
“Because I’m getting so many of them,” he said, with a smile. “That’s a huge credit to our offense for being so consistent and being able to just drive down the field and score so much.”
Here’s the thing: Blankenship is doing some of that scoring too. And he’s having a very good season, not just on touchbacks.
Blankenship is 11-for-12 on field goals this season, the best field goal percentage in the SEC, and hasn’t missed an extra point. For those efforts he has been named one of 20 semifinalists for the Lou Groza award, which goes to the nation’s top place-kicker.
That’s a pretty good honor for a former walk-on who has been through so much the past year: Not winning the starting job out of preseason last year, then grabbing the job, and finally earning a scholarship early this season.
“I think it’s awesome. Some of the kickers that I look up to who are in the NFL now or were in the NFL at one point were Groza winners. So it’s a great honor to be recognized,” Blankenship said. “But it’s not something that I’m harping on or honing in on at the moment. I’m just trying to be the best kicker I can be for this team, and if that leads to a Groza (award) then so be it, I’ll take it.”
One of the other semifinalists, and perhaps the favorite, will be on other team Saturday. Auburn senior Daniel Carlson is a semifinalist for a third straight year.
“He’s pretty good. He’s an incredibly talented kicker and I admire what he’s done,” Blankenship said, pointing out that Carlson is the SEC’s all-time scoring leader. “So I’ve got some new goals to look forward to as the years go.”
Texas A&M kicker Daniel LaCamara was the only SEC player among the 20 semifinalists named earlier in the week. (Blankenship has had the luxury of fewer field goal tries: LaCamera is 16-for-18 and Carlson is 15-for-21.)
Blankenship was not among the 30 players put on the preseason “watch list” for the Groza award, to further illustrate the accuracy of such preseason lists.
But the biggest improvement for Blankenship has been on kickoffs: His touchback percentage has gone from 62 to 73 percent and his average kickoff yardage (64.38) is second in the SEC, behind only Carlson. In fact, Carlson and Blankenship also rank one-two in touchbacks (54 for Carlson) so there may not be any kickoff returns on Saturday.
Georgia place-kickers tend to have really good sophomore seasons: Blair Walsh was 20-for-22 as a sophomore, and Marshall Morgan was 22-for-24, including a 56-yarder. Now here comes Blankenship.
Georgia junior linebacker Roquan Smith smiled when asked about Blankenship, known for being a quirky jokester and a fun teammate – but also as a hard worker, as Smith pointed out.
“I’ve heard of some of his (kicking) percentages, and it’s ridiculous,” Smith said. “But I’ve seen him all fall camp and all spring, just nailing balls. And I’ve seen him countless times throughout the summer just working on his game by himself, even if it’s at night. It’s in the pudding, and I feel like it’s paying off for him, for sure.”
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