Pod & Camarda kick is good

Jack Podlesny #96 of the Georgia Bulldogs kicks the game winning field goal during the 2020 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl NCAA football game between the Georgia Bulldogs and Cincinnati Bearcats, Jan. 1, 2021, in Atlanta. (Jason Parkhurst via Abell Images for the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl)

Jack Podlesny knelt with his hands pressed against his head while facing the ground for the final seconds of No. 9 Georgia’s 24-21 victory against No. 8 Cincinnati in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl.

Moments earlier, he sent a 53-yard field goal attempt through the uprights inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium to give Georgia its first lead of the second half with three seconds remaining. It was the first game-winning kick of Podlesny’s career, not just at Georgia, but in his lifetime.

“Just trying to remember why I'm here,” he said during the virtual postgame press conference, reflecting on the moment. “God put me here and God is good. It's just amazing to be here.”

Podlesny needed to make sure the moment was remembered. As a walk-on, he wasn’t expected to handle placekicking duties for Georgia. He spent the last two seasons in Athens backing up four-year starter Rodrigo Blankenship and was battling for kicking duties with Jared Zirkel — Georgia’s lone scholarship kicker — leading into the season.

But the Bulldogs fully embraced Podlesny during the postgame ceremony after he was named the Peach Bowl’s Offensive Most Valuable Player.

“Endless support from everyone coming up [and] giving me hugs, high fives, everything,” Podlesny said.

For much of the game, a game-winning field goal was out of the question. Georgia trailed Cincinnati 14-10 at the half and 21-10 at the end of the third quarter. To that point, the Bulldogs had more yards and fewer penalties than the Bearcats, but three drives into Cincinnati’s 25-yard line resulted in zero points.

Those drives ended after an interception, fumble and incomplete pass on fourth down. Georgia finished with two turnovers, and Cincinnati ended with 11 penalties for 80 yards. It wasn’t what you’d expect from a top-10 matchup during a New Year’s Six bowl.

“I don’t think we played our best game today,” said head coach Kirby Smart during the virtual postgame press conference. “But I’m really proud of these guys and how hard they fought.”

Cincinnati controlled the games’ momentum after three quarters and its 11-point lead showed as much. Georgia quarterback JT Daniels had gone 15 for 23 passing for 255 yards and one touchdown and was carrying the offense due to the Bulldogs’ 45 rushing yards.

Yet what momentum the Bearcats had lasted less than two minutes into the final quarter. A sack-fumble by Azeez Ojulari led to a 9-yard touchdown run from redshirt sophomore Zamir White. Podlesny made his second field goal — from 32 yards — on Georgia’s subsequent drive to put the Bulldogs within two, setting up his third and final field goal at the end of the game.

Daniels finished the game completing 26 of 38 pass attempts for 392 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Sophomore wide receiver George Pickens led the Bulldogs with seven receptions for 135 yards and one touchdown.

Podlesny’s 53-yard field goal is the longest in Peach Bowl history and was the longest game-winning field goal for Georgia since Kevin Butler’s from 60 yards in 1984. Going in his favor was Cincinnati not having any timeouts to “ice” him, something he said was helpful.

If Podlesny didn’t have next season’s placekicking duties in his control leading into the Peach Bowl, it would be difficult to imagine he doesn’t have it now. At the very least, he has firm believers within Georgia’s locker room.

“There are definitely a lot of emotions in a field goal to win it from 53 [yards],” Daniels said during the virtual postgame press conference. “I trust in Pod about as much as I can. I felt no pressure to try and make a play I didn't need to when we're on the 35, that's what Pod does. We see it every day in practice.”