ATHENS — There are no points given out for touchbacks, and yet those kicks seem to get the most attention when Rodrigo Blankenship’s season is discussed. Why? The Georgia placekicker has a theory.
“Because I’m getting so many of them,” he said with a smile. “That’s a huge credit to our offense for being so consistent and being able to just drive down the field and score so much.”
Here’s the thing: Blankenship is doing some of that scoring, too. He’s having a very good season, and not just on touchbacks.
Blankenship is 11-for-12 on field-goal attempts this season, the best percentage in the SEC. The sophomore hasn’t missed an extra point. For those efforts he has been named one of 20 semifinalists for the Lou Groza Award, which goes to the nation’s top placekicker.
That’s a pretty good honor for a former walk-on who has been through so much in the last year: not winning the starting job out of preseason last year; then grabbing the job; and finally earning a scholarship early this season.
“I think it’s awesome. Some of the kickers that I look up to who are in the NFL now, or were in the NFL at one point, were Groza winners. So it’s a great honor to be recognized,” Blankenship said. “But it’s not something that I’m harping on or honing in on at the moment. I’m just trying to be the best kicker I can be for this team, and if that leads to a Groza [award] then so be it. I’ll take it.”
One of the other semifinalists, and perhaps the favorite, will be on other team Saturday. Auburn senior Daniel Carlson is a semifinalist for a third straight season.
“He’s pretty good. He’s an incredibly talented kicker and I admire what he’s done,” Blankenship said, pointing out that Carlson is the SEC’s all-time scoring leader. “So I’ve got some new goals to look forward to as the years go.”
Texas A&M kicker Daniel LaCamera was the only SEC player among the 20 semifinalists named earlier in the week. (Blankenship has had the luxury of fewer field goal tries: LaCamera is 16 for 18 and Carlson is 15 for 21.)
The biggest improvement for Blankenship, who was not on the 30-player preseason Groza watch list, has been on kickoffs: His touchback percentage has gone from 62 percent to 73 percent and his average kickoff yardage (64.38) is second in the SEC, behind only Carlson. In fact, Carlson and Blankenship rank one-two in touchbacks (54 for Carlson) so there may not be any kickoff returns on Saturday in Auburn.
Georgia placekickers tend to have really good sophomore seasons: Blair Walsh was 20 for 22 as a sophomore and Marshall Morgan was 22 for 24, including a 56-yard field goal. Now here comes Blankenship.
Georgia junior linebacker Roquan Smith smiled when he was asked about Blankenship, who is known for being a quirky jokester and a fun teammate — but also a hard worker, as Smith pointed out.
“I’ve heard of some of his [kicking] percentages, and it’s ridiculous,” Smith said. “But I’ve seen him all fall camp and all spring, just nailing balls. And I’ve seen him countless times throughout the summer just working on his game by himself, even if it’s at night. It’s in the pudding, and I feel like it’s paying off for him, for sure.”