ATLANTA — Scott Blair, Georgia Tech’s kicker with an Aussie pedigree, has gone from game-winning hero to the verge of losing his starting job in less than a month.
His recent problems with missed field goals and errant kickoffs have left his starting job in limbo as No. 25 Georgia Tech prepares for Saturday night’s game at Mississippi State.
Blair had two missed field goals under 40 yards and two kickoffs go out of bounds in last week’s win over North Carolina. He made a 34-yard attempt.
Coach Paul Johnson says he is struggling to decide on a kicker — either Blair or freshman Chris Tanner — for this week.
“It’s kind of a dilemma a little bit,” Johnson said. “Scott kicks in practice. He’s a very talented young man. He’s got a strong leg.
“I don’t know what you do with it. It’s a tough decision. I may watch (Tanner) kick this week and he may make up my mind more than Scott. We’ll just see.”
Blair says he discovered his passion for kicking by learning to play soccer in the three years his family lived in Australia.
He turned 6 on the airplane ride as his family moved from South Carolina to Wangaratta, Australia. He says he “was big into soccer” in Australia, and he stuck with the sport when his family moved to Calhoun.
In the eighth grade in Calhoun, he discovered he could also kick a football.
“My soccer coach was also my middle school football coach,” Blair said. “He needed a kicker and wanted to see what I could do. So I started kicking.”
He kicked a football well enough to earn an invitation to walk on the Georgia Tech team. He handled kickoffs as a freshman and extra points, field goals, kickoffs and punts as a sophomore. He made 12 of 19 field goals last season, including 12-of-13 from within 40 yards, to earn a scholarship.
Blair says his recent struggles have forced him to return to the basics.
“I have gone back to the fundamentals,” Blair said. “There is still a lot of competition out there. I definitely have to stay on top of my game to keep starting. It’s definitely a battle out there right now.”
Meanwhile, he says he is trying to avoid putting too much pressure on himself.
“You can’t get on yourself too bad mentally so I’m definitely trying to clear my mind before every kick and treat every one as a new kick,” he said.
It has been a rapid fall from grace for Blair, who was celebrated for his lead role in Georgia Tech’s tight 30-27 win over Clemson on Sept. 10. He threw a 34-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas early in the game on the first pass of his career at any level.
“The only time I’ve really thrown the ball was just messing around with some other kickers,” he said. “That was about it.
“We practiced it before and I guess I never expected them to actually call the play. When they did, it was pretty exciting.”
Blair was more than a passing star against Clemson. His third field goal of the game — without a miss — was the game-winner with 57 seconds remaining.
But the high of the Clemson game did not last.
Suddenly, in Georgia Tech’s last two games Blair has made only two of five field goal attempts. Worse, he has missed from distances Johnson says should be almost automatic: from 32 yards against Miami and from 37 and 27 yards against North Carolina.
Johnson was also distraught about the out-of-bounds kickoffs that enabled the Tar Heels to start two drives from their 40-yard line.
He benched Blair and had Tanner kick the last extra point and kickoff against North Carolina.
Blair called the North Carolina game “just an off day.”
“Some mechanics were off that day,” he said. “I obviously could do it earlier in the season, so I’m not trying to get away from anything I’m doing. I’m just working on the stuff to do right and get back to how I was kicking against Clemson.”
Blair is 6-for-10 on field goals. He has missed 1 of 12 extra points.
“I know Scott is capable,” Johnson said. “He has done it. He’s got the ability. He just has to do it on a consistent basis. It’s not like we’re putting somebody out there to throw it 30 yards and we know he can’t throw it. I know he can do what we’re asking him to do. He just has to do it consistently.”