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Rodrigo Blankenship situation has Kirby Smart walking a tightrope [Update]

Cy Brown

Welcome to your one-stop shop for all the relevant UGA football news and takes every Monday through Friday. Kirby Smart finds himself in quite a predicament with the Rodrigo Blankenship situation.

Playing chicken with a train

When Ken Blankenship, father of UGA kicker Rodrigo Blankenship, spoke up in the fall about his displeasure with Kirby Smart over the lack of a scholarship for his son, it seemed like the beginning of a drawn-out saga. Now, the next chapter in that saga has come out.

A lengthy letter, penned by both of Rodrigo’s parents, that’s critical of Smart’s handling of their son’s scholarship situation was sent to multiple media outlets on Thursday, including DawgNation. The Blankenships referred to Rodrigo’s lack of a scholarship as an “injustice” that created a “crushing hardship for his family.”  The entire letter can be read here, but this is the bit that addresses Rodrigo’s future at UGA:

“Why is he remaining at a school where the head coach refuses to acknowledge that his contributions are more than worthy of being on scholarship? We cannot answer the second part of that inquiry. The first part is not that complicated to address: Rodrigo loves UGA, he loves Dawg Nation, he loves his teammates, he loves being a starting player in the SEC, he loves his major field of study and this father cannot break his son’s heart by asking him to transfer to a school that will appreciate his talents enough to pay for his education although with his accrued resume’ I don’t think it would take long to find one.”

The Blankenships’ side of the argument is easy to see and understand. They say Rodrigo has earned a scholarship through his play, just like he earned the starting kicking job, and that he is being shortchanged in favor of other players. Of course, there is nothing untrue about that, but Smart has to use a different kind of calculus while trying to build this program.

Yes, Georgia is hard up against the scholarship limit, but, at a glance, it seems strange that Smart refuses to give Blankenship a scholarship. With the decision by William Ham to step away from football, Georgia is left incredibly thin at placekicker. If he were to upset the Blankenships, specifically Rodrigo, enough to make him want to transfer, the Bulldogs could be left without a competent kicker next season. So, what reasons would he have for toeing that line?

The first reason is the incoming recruiting class, already one of the most hyped in UGA history and seemingly getting better by the week. If Smart is willing to risk losing a kicker with no other realistic options behind him, some more dominoes must be about to tip in the Class of 2017. Or, at least for the time being, he wants to save those spots in case he and his staff can turn a few unexpected guys at last minute. This won’t necessarily happen. Georgia could finish weaker than most think and then there would be a scholarship or two laying around; in which case, Rodrigo would likely get one. (The same goes for unexpected transfers opening a spot.) But based on how Smart’s recruited up until this point and the hype around this class among the recruits themselves, it’s safe to say every available scholarship will be saved for the Class of 2017.

Frankly, another possible reason is he just might not think Rodrigo is that good. Or not better than any other potential walk-ons he could find to fill the role. Rodrigo had his moments this season and showed lots of promising signs for a redshirt freshman, but, based on his stats, a convincing case can be made that, right now, he isn’t much better than a replacement-level kicker. That scholarship could be of more value if given to a player who can reinforce a position that is more difficult to strengthen. (Operative word: could.)

The final possible reason is stubbornness. This is a generalization, but football coaches seem to be hardheaded dudes. And Smart was mentored by the hardest head of them all, Nick Saban. I don’t know if Smart is like a typical college coach, but going up against a college football coach is like playing chicken with a train. Unless you’re Superman, you will lose.

I fall on the side of the Blankenships because a) Rodrigo is a fun dude to have on the football team and I enjoy watching him, b) I think he played well enough to earn one and c) there is no other option, and if Blankenship decides to leave the program, it could have a drastic effect on next season. It’s just not worth the risk in my mind. But what I think doesn’t matter. Smart is judge and jury. I think he calls the Blankenships’ bluff, at least until after National Signing Day, when the staff can re-evaluate the numbers. That is, if it’s a bluff.

Update: Rodrigo released a statement of his own in the early hours of Friday morning saying that whether he deserves a scholarship or not is “irrelevant,” that his father “acted without [his] knowledge” in each interaction with the media and calling the actions “uncalled for.”

Lady Dawgs top A&M

The Georgia women’s basketball has struggled at points this season, but it got a big boost Thursday night with a 69-59 win against the Texas A&M Aggies at Stegeman Coliseum in its SEC home opener. Mackenzie Engram led the way for UGA with 19 points. Pachis Roberts and Simone Costa each provided 13 points of their own.

The win puts the Lady Dawgs at 10-6 on the season, 1-1 in SEC play. They’re in action again this Sunday at noon in Athens, when they face Vanderbilt.

The Gymdogs are back

It’s gymnastics season once again and the Gymdogs kick off (Jumpoff? Vaultoff?) on Friday against LSU at 7 p.m. in Baton Rouge. You can watch the first meet of the season on SEC Network. If you’re looking for a preview of the season, vineyarddawg, the go-to source for Gymdog analysis, has a three-part series to get you ready. Start here if you’re fairly new to gymnastics to get a feel for the basics. (If you’ve never paid attention before, you should do it; it’s a super-fun sport). When you finish, or you already know what’s up, check out parts two and three on the coaching staff and roster.


Good dog

Snow is coming. Stay warm, folks.