A good ole’ “How about them Dawgs” seems appropriate right about now as Kirby Smart and his men in red and black secured another birth in the SEC Championship, while making quite the dominant statement in Lexington with the 34-17 victory. The Kentucky roadie was a thing of beauty as our Bulldogs took a firm grasp of the game from the opening whistle leaving the rather overconfident Big Blue fan base stunned in a contest that they thought was destined to go their way.
While it would be great to soak up the fruits of the 2018 Dawgs’ SEC East title, there’s simply no time for that as Auburn arrives to Athens on Saturday with high hopes of ending Georgia’s thoughts of a magical season. And unfortunately, as Jeff Dantzler points out on page 10, the Tigers have history on their side as far as being Bulldog spoilers.
While I completely expect this year’s installment of the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry to be a tight contest, I do feel good about the outcome because of the way the team has come together after the disappointing loss to LSU last month. Kirby continues to remind anyone that will listen that this year’s team is and continues to be a work in progress. While they do continue to show their youthfulness each week with some mistakes, the improvement of the overall product keeps getting better and better. And nine games into the season, the leaders of the team are bringing stability that was absent in September and early October.
When I speak of stability and its importance in the team element of football, no one has exhibited more this season than Georgia’s kicking extraordinaire Rodrigo Blankenship. For that reason, having “Hot Rod” on this issue’s cover was a no-brainer. And our decision to do so was only strengthened last week when Blankenship was named a 2018 Lou Groza Award (college football’s top honor for place-kickers) semifinalist for the second season in a row.
Rodrigo’s numbers are incredible …
• 15 of 17 field goals this year
• A perfect 40-for-40 on PATs through nine games.
• A school record 129 consecutive PATs during his career
• Ranks second in the NCAA FBS in 2018 with 59 touchbacks (out of 66 attempts)
But beyond his accolades with his strong leg, Rodrigo has become a cult hero to the Bulldog Nation and beyond. Respect the Specs posters at games and Halloween costumes have become the norm. Still, Blankenship continues to stay grounded enough to give back to local charities when he has free time. Speaking of that, be sure to check out photos from ESP’s Bulldogs and Buddies on pages 30 and 31.
Kudos to “Hot Rod” for being one cool cat. And here’s to him continuing to help his team whenever called on.
Beyond our special cover of Blankenship by Athens photographer, Cassie Wright, this issue of BI delivers on both the sports and social front. The trip to Lexington is always a blast, but this one was particularly sweet. While the Bulldog Nation was outnumbered and taunted by those over-confident Cats’ fans I spoke about earlier, they completely rocked it inside the stadium. Please enjoy our shots from the awesome day starting on page 32.
And it’s always a treat when there’s a celebrity sighting at a Georgia game. On Saturday, country music star and huge Bulldog fan, Luke Bryan attended the game with his family. In fact, this terrific photo of the Smarts on this page by Greg Poole was them posing for Luke’s camera. Good stuff.
That’s going to do it for me. The seven hour drive back from Lexington has me zapped. Not to mention, that’s on top of last week’s Georgia-Florida weekend. Oh yeah, then there was the LSU roadie two weeks before that. Wow, rest is definitely in order for the Bulldog Nation the next few days, but I fully expect everyone to be recharged on Saturday night as we Respect the Specs and get after the Tigers. Go Dawgs!!