Bennett deals with misses

ATHENS -- After Monday evening's practice, coach Mark Richt and place-kicker Billy Bennett had a quiet, private conversation.

Richt wanted to gauge Bennett's mindset after the senior missed three field goals in a seven-point loss to LSU two weeks ago. It was just the kind of low-key approach Bennett needed.

"I think Coach Richt has a great understanding of how to talk to a kicker," Bennett said. "I'd probably explode and go off on coach Richt if he was like some of the other coaches I see dogging their kickers in the paper."

Richt, though, understands that Bennett needs room, not reprimands, to bounce back, the kicker said. All of No. 11 Georgia's coaches and players quickly volunteered their support for Bennett after he missed kicks of 43, 42 and 36 yards against the Tigers.

"Everybody has been great," he said. "People have gone out of their way to tell me they are real proud of me and still think I'm doing a great job."

Richt said he came away from his conversation with Bennett feeling fine.

"Basically he said, ‘Coach, as long as I keep kicking well in practice and in games, I'm not really shook up,'" said Richt, who pointed out that all of Bennett's misses were barely off the mark. "He's striking the ball extremely well."

"If it was three awful kicks you'd start to wonder," Bennett admitted.

Bennett left the meeting feeling the same way he has since time expired in the LSU game -- anxious for Saturday's 3:30 p.m. game against Alabama (2-3, 1-1 SEC) to begin. Georgia is 3-1 overall and 1-1 in the SEC.

"Any time I miss a kick, I want to get out there and kick another one," he said. "I think the first kick will be really important. I think I'm going to make it, that's why I can't wait to get out there. I'm sure I'll get some cheers from the crowd... maybe a sigh of relief."

Bennett doesn't have to look far for positive reinforcement this week. He hit a 32-yard field goal with 42 seconds left to beat the Crimson Tide 27-25 last year.

"I didn't see (the LSU game). I just don't remember him missing any against us," Alabama running back Shaud Williams said. "That's the downside about being a kicker is when the only time you get any publicity is when you miss a game-winning field goal or you miss three in a game and lose by seven. It's a position with kickers that goes with the territory."

Bennett's mental approach to the game is perfect for handling the thankless nature of the job, assistant coach Jon Fabris said. Fabris, one of Georgia's special teams coordinators, doesn't work on the field goal unit but has a special understanding of the position after being pressed into duty there as a high school player.

"I don't think there is a more pressurized position in football thanplace-kicking," he said. "You have to have a short memory. I think it's true of any position that a lot of people can see."

Georgia's kickers ride to games ahead of the rest of the team because they need more time to stretch. Fabris takes the same early trip to prepare himself so he's familiar with Bennett's game-day attitude. He understands, he says, why Bennett has said he laughed more than once about his wretched game.

"There's no doubt in my mind it bothered him greatly, but it's not like this is his first rodeo," Fabris said. "He really is a competitive kid but not an uptight competitive kid.

"He's a different bird. I think it's good to be a different bird when you're a kicker."

Bennett and Richt agreed the kicker has had seven solid days of practice since the LSU game, and Richt said he thinks Bennett's history of hitting big kicks will give him enough confidence to rebound from his worst game. Along with providing the winning margin against Alabama last year, Bennett hit a game-winning 43-yarder with 5:19 left against Clemson, and made 3 of 3, including two from 40-plus yards, in a five-point win over Tennessee. As a sophomore, he had a school-record 6 of 6 in a 14-point win over Georgia Tech, and, as a freshman, he made 4 of 4 against Auburn in a game the Bulldogs eventually lost in overtime.

"I shudder to think where we would be without No. 30," Fabris said. "I'm not worried about him one bit."

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