For a few hours, Kentucky football fans were on top of the world. Arkansas’ win over Florida vaulted the Cats to the top of the SEC East standings, the dream of playing in the SEC Championship game was still alive, and Commonwealth Stadium was absolutely buzzing with energy. Even though the Cats got off to a rough start, they bounced back, tying it up with a Benny Snell touchdown at the end of the first quarter. After Georgia hit a field goal to take the lead, the Bulldogs fumbled UK’s punt on the next drive and Kentucky pulled ahead 14-10 on a Boom Williams touchdown.
Even though Kentucky was ahead at the half and Benny Snell scored again about six minutes in, the Cats began to unravel, making errors and committing turnovers, but somehow clung to the lead heading into the fourth quarter. Sadly, the momentum swing was too much, and Georgia took over, controlling the clock and putting Kentucky on the wrong side of a last-second field goal. Kentucky lost 27-24, their fourth loss of the season.
Let’s break it down because I guess we have to.
Of course Georgia’s running game reappeared tonight
Georgia’s had trouble running the football all season, despite having two world-class backs in Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. So, it only makes sense that their running game got back on track against Kentucky tonight. The Bulldogs had 42 carries for 215 yards and one touchdown, and most importantly, controlled the clock, winning the time of possession 33:59 to 26:01. For perspective, Georgia only had 21 rushing yards last week vs. Florida.
Georgia’s passing game was pretty great as well, with quarterback Jacob Eason leading the Bulldogs’ fourth quarter rally to perfection. The true freshman looked like a pro as he moved Georgia down the field with ease, finishing 17-31 for 245 yards and a touchdown. Dangit.
Jeff Badet’s drop hurt
“A game comes down to a few plays”
Stoops said that in his postgame remarks, and it’s easy to pinpoint three that caused Kentucky’s demise. All three happened in the third quarter: the holding call on the field goal, Garrett Johnson’s fumble, and Jeff Badet’s drop/Stephen Johnson’s interception on what would have been a touchdown.
The holding call was a Catch-22: obviously, the penalty negated Austin MacGinnis’ kick, but if CJ Conrad hadn’t held the Georgia defender, it looked like the field goal would have been blocked, which could have led to a scoop and score. The other two errors were much more egregious. After a huge 21-yard gain, Johnson fumbled the ball, leading to a Georgia field goal. Things just got worse on the next drive. Stephen Johnson delivered a gorgeous bomb to Jeff Badet, who juggled and dropped it right into Deandre Baker’s hands. There were a lot of painful mistakes tonight, but that one may be the toughest to swallow.
“I was on them from the beginning of the game until the end about urgency,” Stoops said, mentioning a few miscommunications during the game. “That’s the difference between winning and losing. It takes extreme discipline in pressure situations. And we didn’t execute it. Tonight.”
Stoops said he felt like something was off from the start
All week, Stoops praised his team’s preparation in practice, but admitted to reporters after the fact tonight that something just felt…off.
“We had really good preparation all week, and I really didn’t feel like we had an edge about us today though. I just didn’t like. Just a certain look in our eye. I think our players wanted it to happen, and I don’t know, I just got to do a better job of getting them to play with that mentality and that edge.”
You can’t fault the crowd; UK announced a sellout crowd of 62,507, and each fan brought it, creating one of the cooler atmospheres in Commonwealth Stadium history; sadly, tonight, it just wasn’t meant to be.
Benny Snell broke another one of Randall Cobb’s records
Rehashing all of the bad in tonight’s game is depressing, so let’s look at the good. Once again, Benny Snell was outstanding. Snell carried the ball 21 times for 114 yards and two touchdowns. In what has become a fitting pattern, with those two touchdowns, Snell broke yet another of Randall Cobb’s records. Benny’s now in the record books for the most touchdowns scored by a freshman in Kentucky football history with ten. His 114 rushing yards are the most for a Kentucky player against Georgia since Derick Logan had 140 on October 26, 1996. In the fourth quarter, Benny took over, fighting exhaustion as he lead the Cats down the field out of the Wildcat formation (or, as I’m calling it, the SnellyCat). On 3rd and 7, UK decided to go back to Stephen Johnson, who missed Dorian Baker, which caused Kentucky to settle for a field goal and led to Georgia’s game-winning drive and kick at the end.
“It says a lot,” Stoops said of Benny leading the fourth quarter drive despite looking gassed. “He has great heart and great toughness and maturity for a freshman, that’s for sure.”
In fitting fashion, when asked after the game if he gets tired, Benny Snell told a reporter, “No sir, I do not.”
This begs the question…
Why did Kentucky go away from Benny when the offense stalled?
After Benny scored near the start of the second half, he didn’t touch the football again until 13:24 in the fourth quarter. During that period, Kentucky’s offense stalled, and when asked, Mark Stoops said he wished they’d have gone to Benny more during that painful stretch.
“Yeah, I think you could always — yes. I think that certainly that’s fair. I was thinking that and talking to them about that, yeah. On a possession or two. But you can’t let any one call — I had some calls that I wish I could do over, too. I definitely do.”
All is not lost
There’s no denying a win tonight would have been huge for Kentucky. Not only would they have officially clinched bowl eligibility in thrilling fashion, they would have become a real factor in the SEC East race. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen due to some huge mistakes, but judging by the meltdown some fans are having online, you would have thought tonight’s loss threw Kentucky back to the dark ages. The loss was frustrating, yes, but keep in mind Kentucky is one win over a bad Austin Peay team from going bowling for the first time since 2010. Falling into a pit of negativity may just be second nature to Kentucky football fans by now, but remember, it’s really not the end of the world. We’ll still get to six. This would have just been the icing on top.
I’m sure that won’t stop some of you from the Chicken Little rants, but while you’re groveling in negativity, I just hope the players bounce back. Based on social media, it seems like they’re already working on it:
— Mr. Snell ya later (@benny_snell) November 6, 2016
This will only make us better
— Drake Jackson (@THE_DRAKE_52) November 6, 2016
“We’re going to keep on swinging and keep on going back to work,” Stoops said afterwards. “You win and you lose. And these guys are battling and they’re in the arena, and they’re competing and coaches are working hard and we’ll all stay together and we all can do a better job and we will. We’ll go back to work, but we’re not going to stop.”