Rodrigo Blankenship was nearly perfect for much of the 2017 season.
The Georgia kicker and Marietta native completed 20 of his 23 field goal attempts, including a career-long 55-yard field goal against Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl. He did not miss an extra point, and 67 of his 94 kickoffs resulted in touchbacks, a Georgia record.
Through the first three games of the 2018 season, Blankenship began a new streak of perfection. He did not miss a field goal or extra point, and all his kickoffs resulted in touchbacks.
Against Missouri on Sept. 22, Blankenship looked human again. He missed a 49-yard field goal attempt in the second quarter and had a 36-yard attempt blocked in the fourth quarter. Then, on the opening kickoff of the second half, for the first time this season, his kickoff did not result in a touchback, as Missouri running back Tyler Badie returned it 35 yards to the Missouri 36-yard line.
“It may have been highlighted in that game [against Missouri] for some individuals, or maybe as a team collectively, but I think just, as a whole, the whole team, every single player on this team has things they can do to get better,” Blankenship said. “It was just a little bit more so for myself in that game. I realized that what I've been doing so far isn't quite good enough, and I still need to get better.”
Against Tennessee on Saturday, Blankenship showed improvement from his performance at Missouri. He completed his only field goal attempt, a 43-yard kick in the second quarter, and all seven of his kickoffs resulted in touchbacks.
But there was one play against Tennessee that could have ended another historic streak for Blankenship. After Justin Fields scored a rushing touchdown to put Georgia ahead 23-0 in the third quarter, Blankenship came on to attempt the extra point. After punter and holder Jake Camarda bobbled the snap, Blankenship pump-faked his foot and just barely got the extra point through to make it 24-0.
Blankenship was prepared for the moment and did not panic, thanks to a drill the Georgia kickers run every day in practice.
“The first thing [the kickers] do every practice, after we have our team flex and everything, we go up to our top field and we hit some no-steps,” Blankenship said. “That's what that kick was—you don't get to take any steps, you're just already planted next to the ball, and you just gotta kick it.”
Blankenship said he doesn’t remember exactly how long of a field goal he’s made in the no-step drill, but he guesses about 35 or 40 yards.
Had Blankenship missed the extra point try, it would have been the first he had missed in his career at Georgia, as he is currently 116 of 116 in extra point tries.
Still, Blankenship is not getting distracted by the historical significance of his streak of made extra points, just like he was not fixated on the fact that his touchback and made field goal streaks came to an end against Missouri.
“Just trying to treat every kick with the respect and attention to detail that it deserves, and just trying to go out and take everything one step at a time,” Blankenship said. “I'm just trying to take it one rep at a time and worry about all the streaks and records at the end of the day, a little bit later on.”