It was a beautiful day in the Bluegrass State with the table set for an historic day for the Kentucky football program. Optimism was the high, the Cat Walk was incredible, and CBS was in town for the matchup between two top 1o teams. On paper, it looked like the Wildcats could go blow-for-blow against Kirby Smart’s ballclub. The game wasn’t played on paper.
In their best performance of the season, Georgia was the more physical team at the point of attack and their ability to run the ball down Kentucky’s throat was the difference in the game. The UGA offensive line did whatever they wanted on Saturday afternoon. On the flip side, the UGA front seven totally eliminated the UK ground attack. In the end, Georgia got explosive plays and Kentucky did not.
Kentucky entered the contest as the less talented team on Saturday and that showed with the Bulldogs bringing forth their best effort to clinch consecutive division titles. There’s still a lot to play for but this one could sting for quite awhile.
Kentucky collected 310 yards (84 rushing, 226 passing) on 64 plays. The Cats put up just 4.8 yards per play and for the fifth time in seven SEC games were held below five yards per play. That’s not going to get the job done. For the second week in a row, the ground game was a major disappointment.
If you take out the performance against Vanderbilt, Kentucky has averaged under 2.7 yards per carry in their last three SEC games. In those contests, Benny Snell has only rushed for a combined 2oo yards and the Wildcats are getting nothing from anyone else. The quarterback run game has been totally eliminated and one of the most powerful ground attacks in September has suddenly been locked up by every good defense they’ve seen. Even with another disappointing performance, Kentucky was still able to move the football.
After putting up 8.6 yards per attempt and completing 71% of this throws in the road win over Mizzou, Terry Wilson followed it up with another strong performance. Against one of the best pass defenses in the country, the sophomore put up 7.8 yards per attempt and completed 79% of his throws on Saturday. Those were both season highs allowed by the Bulldogs this season. Kentucky’s quarterback has made huge strides in the last two weeks and it’s possible that the passing game could become this team’s strength in the last three games of the season.
At receiver, Lynn Bowden had another excellent game recording 52 yards on a team-high six receptions. Out of nowhere, Isaiah Epps stepped up and make two huge catches on the outside. A.J. Rose proved to be a very reliable pass catcher when Kentucky got into their two minute offense.
After receiving some playing time in the fourth quarter last week, Ahmad Wagner received some more snaps against Georgia on Saturday. He has yet to record a reception but has already drawn three defensive pass interference calls. He is an obvious mismatch for outside corners and should be a bigger part of the offense moving forward.
Kentucky is still having issues with finishing drives with points. In the first quarter, Kentucky is inside the Georgia 40 and a nice gain on first down ends in a C.J. Conrad fumble.
On the very next possession after UK recovers a fumble, a false start on left guard Luke Fortner turns a third and medium in the red zone into a third and long. Kentucky has to settle for three. Add in personal foul calls on your two starting guards Logan Stenberg and Bunchy Stallings that give UGA excellent field position. There are errors that are costing the team and ruining positive steps forward for the offense.
Kentucky still has a lot to work on but they’ve made some real positives steps on this side of the football since the ugly victory over Vanderbilt. The UK passing game has come alive and they did some really impressive things against one of the best passing defenses in the country. The ground game needs to figure some stuff out but this unit is positioned to finish the season very strong.
After not allowing a first down in the victory over Mizzou, the Kentucky defense pick a bad day to have their worst performance of the season. Georgia rolled up a season high 331 rushing yards on their way to 34 points and 6.3 yards per play. Before yesterday, no one had rushed for more than 164 yards against this defense.
The Wildcats were able come away with two turnovers on fumble recoveries due to bad shotgun snaps but other than that they found it very difficult to get off the field. The Bulldogs were 58% on third down and scored on all five of their red zone possessions. Georgia only punted once all afternoon. Jake Fromm was not asked to do much from the pocket with the running backs and offensive line controlling this football game.
Elijah Holyfield and D’Andre Swift combined to go for 271 yards on 34 carries. Both averaged over six yards per touch and really got whatever they wanted against Kentucky’s defense. Swift was especially dangerous.
He killed Kentucky with draw runs on passing downs and then exploded for a 83-yard touchdown run in the middle of the third quarter to make it a four-possession game. The sophomore had been dealing with injury issues all season and then finally started to look healthy against LSU and Florida. Now with fresh legs, the former five-star back will be a big weapon for a Georgia team looking to win another SEC title.
Missed tackles were an issue for Kentucky and the Wildcats struggled to get off blocks. One of Georgia’s best and most used plays all game happened to be a cutback run where the back outrun the backside corner to the sidelines. The Wildcats struggled to defend it and UGA usually went to it whenever they found themselves in a bind.
Outside of the two fumble recoveries, Josh Allen was very quiet. Darius West was ejected early in the third quarter for targeting. Mike Edwards led the team in tackles but also missed a few. Kentucky’s stars on this side of the football didn’t have their greatest days and at the end of the day just couldn’t stop the run. If you can’t do that it’s going to be a long day when playing this Georgia offense.
Let’s start with the good. Chance Poore drilled his second field goal of the season and was perfect on extra points. Grant McKinniss had a touchback rate of 50% and the kick coverage team limited returns.
Now to the bad.
Georgia’s first score of the day was nearly given to them after a nice drive by the Kentucky offense. Max Duffy’s first punt landed inside the 15 but the punt team out ran the kick and one of the best returners in the country made them pay.
Mecole Hardman is a speed demon who is an absolute nightmare to deal with when he gets to play in space. The junior set the Bulldogs right outside of the red zone on their first possession and immediately put Kentucky into a hole. This cannot happen.
In their two SEC losses, Kentucky’s punt team gave up huge returns that resulted in immediate red zone possessions for the opposing offense. Kentucky is blowing field position opportunities and is putting their defense in very bad spots. This cannot happen moving forward.
There is no way to get around it and everyone who is involved or a supporter of this program should be ticked off. Kentucky was 60 minutes away from winning a division title for the first time in program history and they really didn’t even give themselves a chance to win the game on Saturday.
The Wildcats could not fall behind early. They did. The Wildcats had to establish the run. They didn’t. They Wildcats had to slow down the UGA rushing attack. They didn’t. The Wildcats had to consistently finish drives. They didn’t.
Everything Kentucky needed to do to win that game they fell short in and that turned a top 10 matchup into a a blowout. But it is also time to recognize just the juggernaut they were going up against.
Georgia has beaten every SEC East team by at least 14 points over the last two seasons and in every game but one the Bulldogs have put up 34 or more points. Take out the games against Mizzou and no one has scored more than 17 against them. In just three short years, Kirby Smart has built a powerhouse in Athens who now absolutely obliterates divisional foes. Maybe we should’ve seen a double-digit loss coming.
This one will sting for awhile, but it is important to remember that this team can still do some really special things this season. Kentucky will be a favorite in their final three games and recording double-digit wins would be a remarkable achievement for this program. The Wildcats could get Joshua Paschal back any week now and Terry Wilson has made large strides in the last two games. Kentucky will be facing average at best defenses the rest of the way paired with offenses that don’t scare anyone. The motto for this season has been “Get Up” and now is the perfect for this team to remain together and finish the season strong.
On to Tennessee.