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Ashway: Blankenship keeps his cool, delivers Georgia win
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Forsyth County News

The coolest student on Georgia’s campus this week remains decidedly uncool.

And Rodrigo John Blankenship seems to be okay with that.

Georgia’s unhip placekicker nailed a 25-yard field goal as time expired Saturday night to deliver Georgia a 27-24 win at Kentucky.

While the game had no effect on the College Football Playoff structure, it did have a profound effect on the standings in the SEC East.

The loss kept Kentucky from ascending into first place, and affirmed that even a mediocre Georgia team can still beat Kentucky.  At least a portion of the natural order of things has thus been preserved.

The kick also propelled Blankenship into instant cult status.  There he was on the field after the game, being interviewed by an effusive Kaylee Hartung. 

Not only was his helmet still on; his chin strap remained snapped in place.  And, of course, wedged under that helmet were the signature glasses.

They actually appear to be goggles adorned with thick, black frames.  Only a concession to aerodynamics in the style prevents Blankenship from impersonating Clark Kent.

Then again, maybe he is, Lois.  Maybe he is.

The walk-on kicker had a stellar career at Sprayberry High School in Marietta, where he made 7 of 10 field goals as a senior.  Two were from 56 and 51 yards.  He also averaged 46 yards per punt, and participated in the 2014 US Army All-America Bowl.

As a youth, he attended a kicking camp conducted by Rex Robinson, who defeated Kentucky with a game-ending field goal in ’78.  That kick evoked the famous Larry Munson call:  “He kicks it up.  It looks good.  Watch it.  Watch it.  Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! YEAH!”  

Blankenship took over Georgia’s kicking duties from the ill-performing William Ham against Ole Miss.  He promptly missed his first field goal attempt, but that can be forgiven.  Most of his teammates missed that game as well.

Since then, he’s nailed nine straight field goals, and all 13 extra point attempts.  Saturday, he scored a career high 13 points. He hit field goals of 25, 42, 49, and 25 yards.

He was the difference in the game.

Yet, you’d never have guessed as much from his post-game interview.  He never cracked a smile, never spoke out of a monotone.  He acted like he missed the final kick.  He exhibited all the excitement of someone sitting down to a bowl of oatmeal.

He calmly described getting ready once the offense crossed midfield, taking practice kicks after each down.  He described wanting to just come out and do his job.  Even when Georgia’s Hairy Dawg mascot ran up and slapped him on the back, he never displayed a glimmer of emotion.

Turns out he’s got the perfect demeanor for a kicker.

“You try and block it out the best you can,” he told macon.com.  “You try to remain the same whether the score is 24-24, or who knows?  It could have been 45-28, and the game out of hand.  You just try to treat every kick the same way, no matter what.”

Sounds like Blankenship has experience with game-winning kicks.  When was his last one? 

“Is it bad if I don’t remember?” he asked ugarivals.com.  “I remember kicking one in the eighth grade.

“You usually don’t think like, ‘I’m going to kick the game-winning field goal today.’  You take it one step at a time, but whenever you get the opportunity to kick, you’ve just got to step out there and do your job no matter what the score or situation is.”

“He does that in practice,” coach Kirby Smart told georgiadogs.com.  “It’s easy to show confidence in players who do things well in practice.

“He has hit a lot of field goals in a row at practice, and the team almost gathers around and they just count them out.  If he gets five shots, he’ll make all five, and everyone is going nuts.

“He’s just really in rhythm, and I think a lot of that credit should go to [Trent] Frix, too.  He whips that thing back there fast, gets plenty of time, and Jacob [Eason] is a really good holder.

“But the kid has ice in his veins right now.”

Blankenship had plenty of help, to be sure.  Eason led Georgia on a pair of back-to-back 67-yard drives for its last 11 points.  On its final drive, Georgia never even reached a third down.  Coordinator Jim Chaney struck a better balance between the run and pass overall, though he still had stretches of segregation.

The defense allowed Kentucky to convert on only 3 of 13 third down attempts.  Included was holding Kentucky to the tying field goal on its final possession, after it reached first and goal on the Georgia 9-yard line.  Smart called a key timeout before the final three plays to let his defenders regroup.

This was a good win for a team spiraling quickly in the wrong direction.  As good as a win over Kentucky can be.  It gives Georgia a chance to salvage the season.  It gives Smart a chance to gain some traction and move his program forward. 

Perhaps Georgia has found itself.

It’s certainly found its kicker.