ATHENS, Ga. — Georgia freshman Blair Walsh missed two field-goal attempts last week against Vanderbilt and now heads to college football’s place-kicking house of horrors.
No venue has been more unkind to kickers than LSU’s Tiger Stadium. Some of the finest in the nation have wilted before the rabid sea of gold, which only adds to the aura of the 84-year-old facility.
Billy Bennett is the leading scorer in Georgia and Southeastern Conference history, but he missed three field goals from within 43 yards during a 17-10 loss in 2003. Oregon State’s Alexis Serna eventually won a Lou Groza Award and made 144 straight extra points, but he missed his first three in a 22-21 overtime loss in 2004. And then there was John Vaughn, Auburn’s all-time scoring leader, who missed five field goals in a 20-17 overtime loss in 2005.
“I know Billy Bennett didn’t have a good game down there, and I’m sure that will be in the minds of some people, but it should be fun,” Walsh said. “I can’t wait to go down there. How many times do you get to play down there? It should be a cool experience.”
The 5-foot-10, 183-pound USA Today All-American from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., made 10 of his first 12 field-goal attempts this season, with the misses coming from 56 and 54 yards. Against Vandy, however, Walsh missed a 40-yarder wide left in the first quarter and had a 37-yarder bounce off the right upright in the fourth quarter.
He redeemed himself with a 39-yarder with 17 seconds left, which sealed the 24-14 win.
“It’s humbling,” Walsh said. “It is easier knowing that I didn’t have to go into this next game on an 0-for-2 streak, but you’ve just got to keep going and be ready. I’m trying to be mentally ready this week as well as physically.”
Walsh said he swung around too far on his first miss against the Commodores and pulled his head up too soon on the second attempt. He is able to work about twice a month with former Bulldogs standout and NFL Hall of Fame kicker Kevin Butler, whose son Drew is Georgia’s backup punter.
Keeping the head down longer through the kick, Walsh said, has been Butler’s primary piece of advice.
Last week’s misses will prevent Walsh from setting any single-season accuracy mark, because Bennett (92.9 percent in 2000) and Brandon Coutu (90.9 percent in 2006) set that standard quite high. Yet nobody doubts he will bounce back, even in treacherous Tiger Stadium.
“I think that guy is a really good kicker and has a really bright future,” quarterback Matthew Stafford said. “More than anything, he’s got a really good head on his shoulders, especially for a kicker. Sometimes they’re a little ‘head-casey’ or something like that. He misses and obviously feels bad for missing, but he comes right back the next time.”
Said coach Mark Richt: “His fundamentals are so strong, and that was true of Billy and true of Coutu. They had such a great stroke and were so consistent that when they did miss it was rarely by much.”
Walsh also hit the upright on his 54-yard miss at Arizona State, so his 11-of-15 season tally isn’t too far from 13-of-15.
“I’ve hit the posts twice now,” he said. “I had never hit them before college, and now I’ve hit them twice in 15 attempts. They should start making the posts count.”
At Tiger Stadium? Not a chance.
Odds and ends
Sophomore linebacker Akeem Hebron suffered a fracture dislocation of the left ankle on the final play of Tuesday’s practice and will miss the rest of the season. ... Redshirt freshman tight end Aron White, who started two weeks ago against Tennessee, will not play Saturday after spraining his right shoulder. Georgia’s only healthy tight end is sophomore Bruce Figgins. ... Senior linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (knee) and senior tight end Tripp Chandler (shoulder) will travel to Baton Rouge, but how much or whether each plays is uncertain.
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...