LEXINGTON, KY. —Rodrigo Blankenship spoke about the moment with a cool, analytical detachment.
“Kickers are a lot like pitchers in a lot of ways, and one of those ways is when they’re having a really good day everybody just kind of leaves them alone,” Blankenship said. “Clayton Kershaw is throwing a perfect game, everybody just kind of leaves him alone to do his own thing. That was really was it was at the end of the game, everybody giving me my space.”
Then he shrugged.
Georgia’s kicker had just had the game of his career, and he didn’t sound giddy about it. Which may be why he had the game of his career.
Kevin Butler, the legendary former Georgia kicker and now a student assistant coach, described the moments before the game-winner.
“I told them to get away from my kicker,” Butler said. “Everybody was trying to talk to him.”
For all Georgia’s place-kicking problems, it never lost a game because of them. Now it won a game because of Blankenship: Four field goals, including the game-winning 25-yarder as time expired to lift Georgia to a 27-24 win at Kentucky.
It’s an amazing turnaround for Blankenship, who wasn’t the starter when the season began, and had many wondering if the walk-on would be walking off the team soon. Instead he’s 9-for-10 on the season.
“Who woulda thought, after the spring game and all of the stuff, that the guy would hit, what, four field goals, is that right?” head coach Kirby Smart said. “I’m proud of Rodrigo and I’m so happy for him, because the kid has worked so hard. I mean he hits those in practice, lately he’s been drilling them in practice, so that’s why we’re willing to put him out there.”
While the game-winner was a chip-shot, as was another 25-yarder in the second quarter, Blankenship also hit a 42-yarder and a 49-yarder, the latter his longest of the season. That one may have ultimately been the difference.
“Last one? Oh I knew he was going to hit it,” Smart said. “The 49-yarder? I was hoping.”
When he was asked if he was in a good rhythm now, he thought a moment and said, almost reluctantly: “I suppose so.”
Blankenship said he actually had a bad kicking day at Thursday’s practice.
“So it was nice to bounce back from that and make everything today,” he said.
William Ham, who lost the place-kicking job after a rough start to the season, was among the first people there to high-five Blankenship after the game-winner.
Smart was asked to assess how Blankenship had responded to not winning the job, coming back to go on this hot streak. The coach smiled.
“Maybe it was just a bad coaching decision,” Smart said. “Maybe he should’ve been kicking the whole time. But he’s a high-character kid, and I appreciate all he does. He never stops. They had a lot of challenges in camp where we tried to challenge them to see who could kick better, and he didn’t win all of those, and he was resilient about it, he kept coming back.”
Blankenship, true to form, put it in those cool, analytical terms.
“Every day you hit the reset button,” he said. “At the beginning of the season I was just trying to be as supportive of Ham as I possibly could be, because in my opinion I think he’s a fairly talented kicker. So I was just trying to be there for him as much as I could be. And whenever my number was called I tried to make the most of it.”