As ridiculously good as Georgia special teams were last year, they are better so far in 2018.
Rodrigo Blankenship, Jake Camarda, and Mecole Hardman are the three players who have Georgia off to such a great start this season.
All-American kicker Rodrigo Blankenship is currently playing a perfect season. Perfect for touchbacks, field goals, and PATs. If he continues at this pace, he’s looking at a legitimate chance to win the Lou Groza award which the nation best kicker receives at the end of the season. He was one of the semi-finalists in 2017 but didn’t make the finalist cut.
If Blankenship won, he would be the first Bulldog ever to win the award. Blair Walsh, Brandon Coutu, and Billy Bennett are the most recent kickers to be considered a finalist for the Lou Groza award. According to the Lou Groza Award website, Blankenship is already on the 2018 watchlist, however, there is a lot of competition including last years winner, Utah kicker, Matt Gay.
True freshman punter Jake Camarda is also having a stellar year averaging 47.4 yards per punt. Losing last seasons punter Cameron Nizalek was a considerable loss for Georgia, but Camarda has stepped in and provided the same consistency.
“Well, if they continue to toe-meet-leather well like Rod (Rodrigo Blankenship) has done I think Jake (Camarda) would be the first to tell you he has to get some more hang on some of his kicks and his distance has to match his hang,” Smart said. “We have to do a good job covering him better, and that’s something we continue to work on. He’s kicking the ball well. It’s just sometimes that he outkicks his coverage, and we want our distance and hang to match, meaning if we kick it 50 yards, we want five-second hang. And he’s done it for the most part. We just had a couple Saturday that he didn’t do that.”
This duo is one of the best kicker/punter pairs in the country.
Last but not least is the teams leading wide receiver and prolific return man Mecole Hardman. Hardman is a nightmare for opposing teams when he gets the ball in his hands.
He finally recorded his first punt return for a touchdown against MTSU after being so close several times last season. He is the kind of player that teams will avoid kicking the ball to because of his abilities to take a punt/kickoff to the house.
“Mecole (Hardman) has always been an explosive player with the ball,” Smart said. “I was very pleased to see him get his first opportunity to return one all the way back. And looking at it, there were a lot of guys that helped him do that. We always demand excellence in special teams. We work really hard on it, and we’ll continue to do that to try to create advantages in the kicking game.”