BATON ROUGE – As the Georgia Bulldogs were studying LSU this week, they noticed a trend. Fifteen of 17 times they lined up to defend a field goal, the Tigers sent both players from the defense’s left to try to block the kick.
After Saturday, that ratio dropped to 15-of-18. In fact, neither player came after the kick this time. They both stayed home, with one actually dropping into coverage. That was safety Grant Delpit, and it was he who dropped Rodrigo Blankenship for a 2-yard loss.
Blankenship needed to gain nine yards on what will go down as one of the more ill-fated trick plays Georgia has ever attempted. At the time Georgia was trailing only 3-0 and needed Blankenship to do what he does best – boot a 31-yard field goal – to tie the game after what had been a physically dominating offensive series for the Bulldogs.
Instead, LSU gained possession at its 16-yard line and went 84 yards in 12 plays to make it a two-score advantage that would grow from there.
In discussing the decision to attempt such a play in that moment, both Georgia coach Kirby Smart and Blankenship said the thinking was to “create some momentum.” Of course, it wasn’t intended to be for the opponent.
“Yes, I can definitely see the irony in that situation,” Blankenship said.
Blankenship said the decision to try a fake on the Tigers was actually made early in Georgia’s preparations this past week.
“We had watched a lot of film and seen how they rushed field goals,” Blankenship said. “We thought if they lined up a certain way and brought all their pressure, we were going to go ahead and run it and be aggressive. We wanted to try and do something to get some momentum and take their crowd out of the game.
“When we went out there, they lined up how we hoped they would. And so we decided to call it. But they played it differently after the snap and that’s a credit to them. They were really well-prepared for that.”
Smart accepted full responsibility for Georgia calling for the fake.
“We wanted to be aggressive,” he said. “We came in here and talked as a staff, they were like 15 of 17 with a look it would work on and it was a look that we wanted. We thought that it was going to be perfect. They had one guy out there and we were going to block him. A couple of their guys ended up not rushing and [one of them] fell into the play and made it.
“If it doesn’t work, it was a bad call. I’m the first to admit that. But we felt it was there and thought it would be a big momentum play for us and it [wasn’t]. I didn’t think that was the end of the momentum. It just that it hurt us at the time certainly.”
Another reason Smart said he felt good about it was the way the offense had performed at that point. Georgia to that point late in the first quarter had gained 88 yards on offense, including 69 yards rushing.
But the play seemed to inspire LSU’s play in all facets. The Tigers stuffed Georgia’s next four runs for short yardage and the Bulldogs would throw passes on eight of the remaining 12 plays of the first half as they fell behind 16-0.
“I don’t know. We had some good offensive possessions leading up to it,” Smart said. “I thought we were moving the ball good. I felt like at that time we were going move the ball.”
The botched fake was just one of few special teams plays that didn’t go the Bulldogs’ way. Mecole Hardman fumbled a kickoff return after an ill-advised decision to bring out the ball after fielding it four yards deep in the end zone. And freshman Jake Camarda had two near-shanks among his six punts in the game. He averaged 35.5 yards per punt on the day.
“We probably lost the kicking game for the first time [this season], and that’s not indicative of who we are,” Smart said.
The key for the Bulldogs is not letting this game beat them twice.
“You know, we’re just going to take away that we’ve got a lot of things that we can improve on,” said Blankenship, who made a 40-yard field goal and had three touchbacks to go with one called squib on kickoffs. “We have two weeks to get everything right, so we’re just going to go back to the drawing board, dig our feet in and do everything we can to come back with a new mindset for the rest of the season. Because all our goals are still in front of us.”