Special teams contribute to struggles

Rodrigo Blankenship-Georgia-Georgia bulldogs
Rodrigo Blankenship watches as his career-high 45-yard field goal soars through the uprights in the first quarter.

ATHENS — Rodrigo Blankenship wishes he could have attempted that field goal at the end of the first half. He didn’t care that it would have been from 54 yards away.

“I feel like … it would have cleared easy,” Blankenship said.

That’s how confident he felt after he kicked a team-long and career-high 45-yarder in the first quarter on Saturday.

Blankenship also hit field goals from 36 yards and 22 yards on what was an otherwise was a dismal day for Georgia’s special teams.

The Bulldogs committed kicking game breakdowns that led to 10 Vanderbilt points and put themselves in poor field position.

They included:

  • Vanderbilt’s Darrius Sims returned the opening kickoff 95 yards to Georgia’s 4. The Commodores scored two plays later.
  • Isaiah McKenzie struggled with the decision to whether to catch, field or watch Vanderbilt’s line drive punts and almost fumbled one in Georgia territory.
  • Reggie Davis caught the opening kickoff of the second half near the sideline and promptly stepped out at the 3-yard line. That led to Vanderbilt’s field goal.

“Our special teams, we have to get better,” Georgia’s Lorenzo Carter said. “We have to work it. Coach (Kirby) Smart is really focused on special teams and he wants us to be dominant on special teams, but today was unacceptable. We just have to look ourselves in the mirror and realize what we have to do to get better.”

That likely will begin with the kickoff coverage unit, which entered the game last in the SEC and promptly allowed Sims to set up Vanderbilt’s first touchdown.

“I started slow today and didn’t get that first kickoff how I wanted to, and that kind of set the tone for the game,” Blankenship said. “They got that big return. It was an uphill battle the rest of the way.”

McKenzie entered this season with four career touchdowns on punt returns, but has struggled catching them cleanly or making the decision on when to field other punts, especially low liners, like on Saturday.

Blankenship hoped for the opportunity to attempt a 54-yarder at the end of the first half, but after Vanderbilt called two timeouts, Georgia’s offense returned to the field and Jacob Eason’s Hail Mary fell incomplete in the end zone.

“That same kind of hit (as the 45-yarder) would have been good,” Blankenship said.

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