By any name, Jack Podlesny is a great kicker for Georgia

ATHENS — You can call him “J-Pod” or “Hot Pod” or “Two Peas and a Pod” or “Pod Racer” or “The Podfather.” It doesn’t matter to Jack Podlesny. He’ll happily answer to them all.

And he did on Tuesday. Georgia’s place-kicker was referred to by each of those nicknames in a strange, impromptu exchange with reporters that emerged during a rare Podlesny appearance in a midweek, post-practice interview.

Podlesny just laughed as each reporter addressed him by a different one of his nicknames during the 10-minute question-and-answer session at the Butts-Mehre football complex Tuesday. Politely, Podlesny was asked permission each time.

“It’s all good,” he’d say.

The only word coach Kirby Smart uses for Podlesny these days is “consistent.” It’s a good thing, too, as the Bulldogs have been unusually dependent on the senior from St. Simons this season. He enters Saturday’s game against Missouri as the leading point-scorer in the SEC and No. 6 in FBS with 44, most of them coming on eight field goals.

“We hate that we have had to kick as many as we have,” Smart said after practice Tuesday. “That’s been the Achilles’ heel of our offense. We may not punt, but we kick a lot of field goals. It’s fun for Pod, but it’s not fun for the rest of us.”

It’s not necessarily fun for Podlesny, either. Now owner of a national championship ring and two years removed from serving as Rodrigo Blankenship’s understudy, he knows as well as anybody how important touchdowns are to winning football games.

So, while Georgia remains 14th in the country – behind 13 teams tied for first at 1.000 – and fourth in the SEC in red-zone scoring percentage (.967), too often those scores are coming on field goals rather than touchdowns. Podlesny has made all eight of his attempts from the red area. His only miss this season came from beyond the red zone, defined as the 20-yard line and in.

In terms of red-zone touchdown percentage, Georgia has sunk to 66th nationally at 17-for-26, or .654. That’s after getting off to a near-perfect start in the season-opening 49-3 win over Oregon.

“I think every coach is unhappy when he’s got to settle for a field goal and not a touchdown,” Podlesny said. “But, at the end of the day, I’m just trying to walk out there, be consistent and make the points.”

Neither Podlesny nor his teammates take for granted the kicker’s ability to consistently hit on those midrange field goals. In Saturday’s 39-22 win over Kent State, Podlesny’s kicks were good from 39, 31 and 32 yards. That was good enough to earn him this week’s SEC Special Teams Player of the Week honors. Four of his other field goals this season have been under 30 yards.

That seems almost passé, until you think about Missouri and Arkansas last weekend. Missouri’s Harrison Mevis missed a 26-yarder wide right that would have clinched a victory in regulation. Missouri lost 17-14 in overtime.

Arkansas’ Cam Little saw his 42-yard potential game-winner against Texas A&M hit the top of the 35-foot right upright and fall back into the field of play. The Aggies slipped away with a 23-21 victory.

“Cam Little is a good buddy of mine, actually, and that ball was smoked,” Podlesny said. “Forty-two yards, left hash, top of the upright, I mean, you couldn’t hit a ball any better than that. But, at the end of the day, you just have to hit it straight through.”

Podlesny has proved quite proficient at that. Even after sitting behind legendary four-year starter Blankenship for two seasons, J-Pod has moved up to ninth on Georgia’s all-time list for career points scored by kick with 258. At Podlesny’s current pace of 11 points a game, Kevin Butler’s No. 5 place for career scoring by a kicker (353) could be up for grabs.

Then, again, Smart would rather see some of those kicks turned into touchdowns.

“That’s been one of the areas that we have targeted to get better at coming off of last year,” Smart said. “But it’s really great to have ‘Pod.’ The reliability and the consistency that he has played with has been great, but the hope is you don’t have to rely on him all the time.”

See, even Smart calls Podlesny by a nickname. It was actually with Pod’s predecessor that all that silliness got started. Blankenship was known as “Hot Rod” and “Rec Specs,” among many other names. But he earned those monikers by winning Georgia’s starting kicker job as a redshirt freshman walk-on and making many kicks of great renown over a four-year career. It’s Blankenship, the 2019 Lou Groza Award winner, who now sits atop the Bulldogs’ all-time scoring list at 440 points.

Podlesny similarly has earned his nicknames. He owns the record for Georgia’s longest bowl-game winner with a 53-yarder versus Cincinnati in 2020 and has made three of 50 or more yards in his career.

But it hasn’t also been easy. Podlesny had to earn his position through competition. And even though Blankenship was very much Podlesny’s mentor and champion, it’s always hard to follow a legend.

“There’s definitely a lot of pressure,” Podlesny said. “Rod left a huge legacy here. He’s going to be in the books until this program runs itself into the ground, which will probably be never. There was a lot of pressure coming in and trying to win the job in 2020 and filling his shoes. I’m just trying to do the best I can, and hopefully I can accomplish something.”

That natty wasn’t bad. Another one would be even better.

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