Kicker Podlesny keeps delivering, whether Bulldogs are happy about it or not

Georgia photo by Kayla Renie / Georgia fifth-year senior kicker Jack Podlesny, shown here with holder Stetson Bennett IV, has made 20-of-22 field-goal attempts this season for a 90.9% success rate.

The Georgia Bulldogs have played an overwhelming majority of their football games this season without the need for a quality kicker.

They know they've got one, though.

When the Bulldogs experienced their closest call -- the 26-22 escape at Missouri on Oct. 1 -- Jack Podlesny connected on all four of his field-goal attempts. The second tightest margin of victory for Georgia occurred in last Saturday's 16-6 triumph at Kentucky, when the fifth-year senior made kicks of 27, 24 and 37 yards to provide the Bulldogs a 9-0 halftime lead.

Sure, attempts from those distances can be routine, but Podlesny was dealing with 36-degree temperatures and winds of 15 miles per hour.

"It's pretty awesome being able to step up when my team needed me and execute," Podlesny said this week in a news conference. "At the end of the day, I'd like to think it's a 70% mindset thing and 30% conditions. You've got to go out there and do your job, whether that means aiming outside of the upright for the wind to take it back in or whether it means alternative kickoffs.

"It's fun when you get to face adversity and do different things."

The Bulldogs wrapped up their second consecutive 8-0 run though Southeastern Conference play with their win in Lexington, joining Florida's 1995-96 and Alabama's 2008-09 teams in achieving that feat, and they are now gearing for their first home game against state rival Georgia Tech since 2018. The meeting two years ago in Athens was scratched when the SEC implemented a league-only schedule of 10 games after the outbreak of the coronavirus.

Podlesny, a 6-foot-1, 180-pounder from St. Simons Island, Georgia, is often overshadowed on a roster containing the likes of quarterback Stetson Bennett IV, tight end Brock Bowers and defensive tackle Jalen Carter. Yet he is every bit as effective at his craft, having connected on 20-of-22 field-goal attempts for a 90.9% accuracy rate.

The Lou Groza Award has named Podlesny among its semifinalists, giving him the same opportunity to claim an honor that his predecessor, Rodrigo Blankenship, won in 2019.

Podlesny was effective from the start as Blankenship's successor, making 13-of-16 field-goal tries in 2020, including a 53-yarder that clinched Georgia's triumph over Cincinnati in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. He would go 22-of-27 last season, and this year's efforts have put Podlesny at 55-of-65 for his career, with that 84.6% clip putting him ahead of Blankenship's school mark of 82.5%.

Yet Podlesny, who has made 160-of-161 career extra-point attempts and all 57 this season, and Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart admit there is a love-hate vibe whenever fourth down arrives and the kicker trots out on the field.

"It is a luxury to have him," Smart said. "He's been Mr. Consistency since he's been here, and he's mentally wired the right way and does a tremendous job for our program, but the more we use him, the more we realize that those are points we left on the board."

Said a smiling Podlesny: "I hope the mood changes once the ball goes through the uprights."

Podlesny has the opportunity to use the NCAA's extra year of eligibility stemming from the coronavirus and return for a sixth-year senior season in 2023. He has not revealed his plans, so it's not known whether Saturday will mark his Sanford Stadium finale or not.

He just knows he's wanted, even if Smart is frowning.

"It definitely builds my confidence to know he relies on me to go out there and kick a field goal no matter the distance," Podlesny said.

Super seniors

Georgia's seniors last season not only contributed to the program's first national championship since 1980 but also set the four-year mark for wins with a 45-8 record.

This year's seniors are 45-5 and could set another standard Saturday. Both classes achieved their success despite the COVID-shortened season of 2020, when the Bulldogs had a nine-game regular season due to Vanderbilt cancelling the finale.

"These guys, just like the group last year, have been really special.," Smart said. "We could have anywhere from 20 to 25 guys walking out there Saturday, and to look and see what they've done -- to be the winningest class and go through a COVID year where every game was an SEC game. I just find that respectful and amazing, because you didn't get the games outside the conference that season, and they were still able to do it. A lot of credit goes to the character of that group.

"It's not a huge, star-studded cast. There won't be 15 draft picks out there, but there are some guys who really care about UGA and have sacrificed a lot to this program."

Butkus finalist

Sophomore linebacker Jamon Dumas-Johnson, who has 54 tackles, seven tackles for loss and three sacks this season, is among the five finalists for this year's Butkus Award.

Georgia has dominated this honor in recent seasons, with Roquan Smith winning in 2017, Nakobe Dean winning last year, and with Monty Rice being a finalist in 2020.

Rivalry history

The Bulldogs hold a 69-39-5 series advantage according to Georgia records and a 69-41-5 edge according to Georgia Tech records, with Georgia not counting the 48-0 and 44-0 losses to the Yellow Jackets during World War II in 1943-44.

What can't be debated is Georgia's dominance in this rivalry since Vince Dooley took the reins in Athens in 1964, as the Bulldogs are 43-14 since. In other words, Georgia Tech actually led 27-26-5 according to its count until Dooley arrived.

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