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Blankenship Built for the Big Stage

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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It was a showcase spotlight for Georgia. Quietly, and appropriately, it was a signature performance from the Bulldogs' kicker.

It was a showcase spotlight for Georgia. Quietly, and appropriately, it was a signature performance from the Bulldogs' kicker.

In a game with generational hype, and a dramatic finish, the unassuming efficiency of Rodrigo Blankenship might go somewhat overlooked. This was a night featuring star quarterbacks, heavyweight bouts at the line of scrimmage and, for Georgia, highlight plays defensively. It was Blankenship, however, who again proved timely and true; he made all three of his field goal tries, converting from 40, 31 and 33 yards, scoring ten second-half points for the Bulldogs.

From midway through the third quarter on, Blankenship tied the game, gave Georgia the lead and scored the Bulldogs' final points in a conversion that ultimately forced Notre Dame to go for a potential game-winning touchdown on its last drive instead of a game-tying kick. Blankenship may not be in the highlights or have a lasting memory from Georgia's most-anticipated home game ever, but he did do his job and, unassumingly, help lead the Bulldogs to victory. Such is his reliability and such is his role.

Futhermore, Blankenship's six kickoffs resulted in five touchbacks, the lone return coming after a penalty made him rekick from further back; Blankenship squibbed it, Notre Dame brought it back just nine yards and the Fighting Irish still started around the 25-yard line.

Blankenship, affably known around Athens as "Hot Rod", has long been and remains an absolute asset for Georgia. He is now 8-for-8 on field goal tries this season and a remarkable 61-of-72 for his career, along with making all 175 of his extra points. For good measure, Blankenship is coming off a year where Georgia ranked third in the country in touchback percentage. Recent trends are continuing.

Not only is Blankenship one of the best kickers in the country, he is poised to go down as one of the most productive and proficient kickers in SEC history. Against Notre Dame, Blankenship passed the legendary Kevin Butler for fourth on Georgia's career scoring list; for point of reference, Butler became the first and only kicker to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

The comfortability Blankenship gives the Bulldogs is invaluable. While countless programs often have to worry about the kicking game, Georgia doesn't even have to think about it.

Blankenship, in a craft that can be unpredictable and nervy at the college level, is a smile and a sure thing. A Bulldog built for the big stage, he has never missed a kick against rival Florida, drilled a record 55-yard field goal in the Rose Bowl, was true on all three field goal attempts in the national championship game, including a key conversion in overtime, and, now, just made three more important kicks against Notre Dame in front of a record 93,246 fans at Dooley Field at Sanford Stadium.

Wearing thick black glasses underneath his helmet, Blankenship has become a folk hero of sorts around Georgia; a more fitting label may simply be the latter. He, sometimes ceremoniously, other times not as much, is a defining part of all that Georgia does. In a game and a win to remember, Blankenship was everything you would expect.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports