ATHENS — When your kickers have been Rodrigo Blankenship, a Lou Groza Award winner, and Jack Podlesny, the 2022 SEC Special Teams Player of the Year, you have high standards at the position.
Those two have been Georgia’s primary field goal kickers for the first seven years of Kirby Smart’s tenure.
But through the first three games of the 2023 season, Georgia has not gotten the same level of dependability out of its placekicker.
Peyton Woodring has made 4 of his 7 field goal attempts so far this season. The misses, most concerning, have come from distances of 28, 28 and 43 yards. It hasn’t been the sharpest of starts for the freshman kicker.
Woodring was the No. 1 ranked kicking prospect in the country last season, committing to Georgia over Alabama. He won the placekicking job over veteran Jared Zirkel, who is in his fourth season at Georgia.
Zirkel handles kickoff duties for the Bulldogs but he sent Georgia’s opening kickoff out of bounds on Saturday. That gave South Carolina the ball at its own 35-yard line to start what turned into a touchdown drive.
With the misfires being so public, it’s natural for many to wonder about a possible change at the position.
Smart was asked about that possibility this week, along with ongoing competition between Woodring and Zirkel.
“Like I said all along, it was going to be open regardless. We’re competing every week,” Smart said. “The competition every week has been pretty consistent. They’ve been pretty even, but with the outcome of the games, you know, you have to continue to open it up. We did a bunch of exercises to try to put some pressure on those guys today, and we’re going to do the same thing throughout the week and then make a decision. That’s minute to minute, hour by hour.”
It’s worth mentioning that back in 2016, Smart’s first season, Blankenship didn’t win the kicking job at first. That went to William Ham. But after making only 3 of his 7 field goal attempts, Smart made the change to Blankenship starting with Georgia’s fourth game of the season.
Blankenship actually missed his first field goal attempt against Ole Miss but ended the season making 14 of his 18 attempts, including a game-winner against Kentucky. From there, he turned into a program icon.
Smart and Georgia don’t love the idea of having to settle for so many field goals, as red zone issues have plagued the team through the first three games of the season. But worse than red zone field goals are missed red zone field goals, which have happened in back-to-back games.
We’ll have a better idea of how the kicking competition this week turned out come Saturday, as the Bulldogs face UAB.
But until the Bulldogs find the consistency they had with Blankenship and Podlesny, the competition is going to continue. And questions surrounding the position will continue to linger for Smart to answer.