Rodrigo Blankenship

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Georgia holding the upper hand on Florida in SEC East slugfest

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In the most important game in the SEC East, No. 8 Georgia is leading No. 6 Florida 13-3 at halftime in Jacksonville.

Jake Fromm‘s short touchdown pass to Dominick Blaylock gave Georgia a 10-0 lead late in the second quarter. Georgia running back D’Andre Swift has rushed for 56 yards on 13 carries.

Running the ball has been difficult for the Gators. Florida has been held to just nine rushing yards on eight rushing attempts by a hungry Georgia defense. Gators quarterback Kyle Trask has been taken down for a loss of 10 yards to cut into the anemic Florida rushing total.

Dan Mullen rolled the dice on the game’s opening possession by going for it on fourth-and-goal from the Georgia 40-yard line, but an incomplete pass resulted a turnover on downs by the Gators. Georgia then strung together a 16-play drive that resulted in a field goal by Rodrigo Blankenship. The scoring drive covered 47 yards over the 16 plays. Blankenship added one more field goal shortly before halftime to extend Georgia’s lead to 10 points.

No. 3 Georgia holds off No. 7 Notre Dame for 23-17 win

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Before the largest crowd ever to watch a football game in Sanford Stadium, No. 3 Georgia (4-0, 1-0 SEC) took time wearing down No. 7 Notre Dame (2-1) for a 23-17 victory Saturday night. Despite a handful of injuries before and during the game, Georgia managed to overcome an early special teams mistake and shut down the Irish in the second half. Georgia outscored Notre Dame 13-0 after halftime.

Georgia running back D’Andre Swift led all players with 81 rushing yards and scored Georgia’s first touchdown in the second quarter to tie the game at 7-7. Jake Fromm gave Georgia a cushion in the fourth quarter with a 15-yard pass to Lawrence Cager. The touchdown lifted Georgia to a 20-10 lead at the end of an 82-yard drive after Notre Dame had gone three-and-out.

Notre Dame’s second-half drive summary was not good, to put it kindly. After halftime, Notre Dame fumbled on the third play of their first offensive series, which led to a Georgia field goal by Rodrigo Blankenship to tie the game at 10-10. The Irish then went three-and-out on the ensuing possession, leading to another field goal by Blankenship to give Georgia their first lead of the night late in the third quarter. Another punt after losing two yards in three plays led to the Georgia touchdown drive, and Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book was picked off by J.R. Reed on the following possession at the Georgia 33-yard line. That was Notre Dame’s last chance to make things interesting because the Bulldogs began to work the clock. Keeping things on the ground, for the most part, Georgia killed nearly four minutes off the clock before one more field goal by Blankenship to extend the lead to 23-10.

If the atmosphere was a factor, it showed. Notre Dame was called for seven false start penalties in the game. A record crowd at Sanford Stadium of 93,246 was crammed in to watch the events unfold in person. Most of them ended up going home with a smile on their face.

Georgia did suffer some notable injuries in the game. Starting offensive linemen Isaiah Wilson (didn’t play; ankle) and Solomon Kindley (left game; left leg injury) were among the injured Bulldogs, and cornerback Eric Stokes left the game after injuring his knee on the second play of the game.

This all sets Georgia up for a playoff run. With a win against a top 10 opponent under their belts and a favorable schedule the rest of the season, Georgia should be a near-lock for a spot in the SEC Championship Game with a possible 12-0 record. A road trip to Auburn late in the year could be the biggest hurdle remaining, and that could be a nice boost to a playoff profile if things fall just right for Kirby Smart and his program.

While it would be premature to suggest Notre Dame has been eliminated in the playoff discussion, it is a safe bet to say they have a much tougher path back into the playoff mix with a loss. With no conference championship game to fall back on and Michigan getting steamrolled earlier in the day to take some of the luster off their late October showdown in Ann Arbor (note: just some luster), Notre Dame is already in a likely position where they will need to take care of their own schedule the rest fo the way to go 11-1 and then hope for a little help from around the country. The good news for Notre Dame is they likely won’t fall back too far in the polls and there will be teams that take losses the next few months. But it will be tougher on the Irish now.

Georgia will get next week off before jumping into SEC play in October. The Bulldogs will play on the road against a Tennessee program that continues to struggle. The Vols were blown out on the road at Florida earlier in the day. For Georgia, all eyes may be looking ahead to November 2 when Georgia meets Florida in Jacksonville. That game is expected to decide the fate of the SEC East Division, but Georgia must get past Tennessee, South Carolina and Kentucky first. Those three teams are a combined 4-8.

there will be no bye week for Notre Dame until mid-October, so the Irish will be back at it next week with a home game against No. 21 Virginia. The Cavaliers avoided a home upset to Old Dominion on Saturday. Notre Dame will play their next three games at home with Bowling Green and USC each visiting after Virginia before Notre Dame reaches their next bye week.

Georgia’s running duo, Roquan Smith, and kicking game may give Bulldogs the edge on Alabama

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Alabama head coach Nick Saban has established quite a reputation when going up against his former assistants, but Georgia head coach Kirby Smart is looking to break the trend in the biggest game imaginable. Saban’s perfect record against his former assistants will be put to a mighty test against the Bulldogs, coming off a red-hot offensive performance in the Rose Bowl to come away with a double-overtime victory to clinch a spot in Monday night’s College Football Playoff national championship game. Unlike other former Saban assistants, Smart may have the best opportunity to put a dent in Saban’s record against his assistants.

Saban improved his career record against former assistants to an amazing 11-0 when Alabama crushed Florida State in the season opener in Atlanta, setting the tone for a lost season in Tallahassee that ended with Jimbo Fisher finding his way to Texas A&M. That particular season opener was supposed to be one of the toughest challenges Saban had against one of his former assistants, with Florida State entering the 2017 season as a popular pick to make a national title run. As we found out, that was far from the case. But this will be the first time Saban has had to go up against one of his more recent assistants, and Smart is arguably the best equipped to give Saban some concerns.

It begins with Georgia’s running game. As the Rose Bowl showed, these Bulldogs are a force to reckon with on the ground with the running duo of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. Oklahoma was incapable of slowing either down, with Chubb rushing for 145 yards and two touchdowns on just 14 carries and Michel going off for 181 yards on 11 carries with three touchdowns, including the game-winner in double overtime off a direct snap. Georgia’s ability to dabble in a power running game with Chubb and more of a speed attack with Michel was a challenge for Oklahoma to keep up. The major difference in the championship game is Oklahoma has the 54th-ranked rushing defense and Alabama comes in ranked first in the nation against the run, allowing just 91.77 yards per game and eight rushing touchdowns all season long through 13 games. Do not expect Georgia to rack up the offensive yardage on the ground the way they did against the Sooners, but Georgia’s advantage will be the ability to adjust their running styles to keep Alabama on their toes.

You also have to wonder if Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm will ever cave under the pressure when the lights are the brightest. So far, the answer has been a resounding “nope.” Fromm comes into the national championship game with a higher passer rating, more passing yards, and more passing yards than his Alabama counterpart, Jalen Hurts. Hurts has been in this game before, of course, but Fromm is quickly amassing a number of big games himself, including in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, where the SEC Championship Game was definitively won by the Bulldogs against Auburn. Fromm will come into the game without an interception in his last three games; a rivalry game against Georgia Tech, the SEC Championship Game against Auburn, and the Rose Bowl against Oklahoma. At this point, Fromm has arrived and will be as confident as you can get for a freshman.

The offense will be up against a juggernaut with Alabama’s defense, and Georgia’s defense may need some plays out of Roquan Smith. It took a while for Smith to have a significant impact in the Rose Bowl, but the game reached a point where Smith put himself in position to make clutch tackles. Look for Smith to play a big role on the defense once again. Georgia will need that out of him, but the Bulldogs also need to tighten up their own defensive concerns after a long day against Oklahoma.

And if there is one distinct advantage Georgia has in this game, it is placekicker Rodrigo Blankenship. Blankenship nailed a 55-yard field goal against the Sooners at the end of the first half that helped Georgia gain an ounce of momentum before the break. Alabama’s kicking woes have long been a concern for the Crimson Tide. Not having that kind of anxiety on the Georgia sideline if a field goal is needed should be comforting for Smart.

Georgia kicker adds cherry on top of Notre Dame win with scholarship announcement

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As if celebrating a win in South Bend was not enough for Georgia, kicker Rodrigo Blankenship had one more reason to celebrate with the Bulldogs Saturday night. As Georgia head coach Kirby Smart addressed the team in the locker room after Georgia’s 20-19 victory over Notre Dame, Smart turned the attention to Blankenship for the big reveal.

Blankenship was placed on scholarship by Georgia on Friday, but Smart played this one well by holding off until after the game to reveal the news to the rest of the team. One wonders how the announcement would have been made if Georgia had lost. Being able to make the announcement following a win made a joyous moment even more cherished by the Georgia program.

Blankenship converted two of three field goal tries against the Irish and has made three of four tries this season. Last season, Blankenship successfully kicked 14 of his 18 field goal attempts for three points.

Late touchdown gives Florida halftime lead on Georgia

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Jordan Scarlett‘s late second quarter touchdown gave Florida a 14-10 lead on SEC East rival Georgia. That’s where things stand at halftime in Jacksonville in a pivotal SEC East Division game (made even more critical following Kentucky’s win at Missouri earlier this afternoon).

Florida quarterback Luke Del Rio got the game off to an ugly start for the Gators with a poorly thrown ball against his body to the middle of the field for an early turnover. Georgia’s Dominick Sanders came up with the easy interception and returned it 31 yards to the Florida 25-yard line. Florida’s defense answered the early call by holding Georgia to a short field goal by Rodrigo Blankenship.

Florida took the lead late in the first quarter when C'yontai Lewis got his hands on a 19-yard touchdown pass from Del Rio, making up for his earlier error. The 7-3 lead did not last long, as Georgia answered with a touchdown of their own on the ensuing possession. Riley Ridley caught a 14-yard pass from Jacob Eason to put the Bulldogs up 10-7 early in the second quarter.

If Georgia wins, Kentucky will own sole possession of first place in the SEC East with just two SEC games left to play for the Wildcats. Kentucky gets Georgia at home next week, followed by a road game at Tennessee. Florida owns a head-to-head win against Georgia from earlier in the year.