Despite only producing two scoring drives, the fifth-ranked Georgia Bulldogs (4-1, 4-1 SEC) rode their outstanding defense to a 14-3 victory over the Kentucky Wildcats (2-4, 2-4 SEC) Saturday afternoon in front of 12,000 spectators at Kroger Field and an SEC Network television audience.
Redshirt sophomore Zamir White led the Georgia offense with a career-high 136 yards rushing on 26 carries and a touchdown. Redshirt junior quarterback Stetson Bennett finished 9-of-13, passing for 131 yards and rushing for a touchdown. Junior tailback James Cook led in receiving for the second-consecutive game, hauling in four catches for 62 yards. Overall, the Georgia offense amassed 346 yards despite possessing the ball for 10 fewer minutes than Kentucky.
In a terrific effort, the Georgia defense only allowed 229 yards of offense and 15 first downs, along with causing four sacks and a fumble. Sophomore linebacker Nakobe Dean led the unit with a career-high 14 tackles, while senior safety Richard LeCounte also notched a new career high with 13 tackles and a fumble recovery.
“We executed well at times,” said head coach Kirby Smart following the game. “We ran the ball against a really good, physical Kentucky defense. I was pleased with that. It’s hard to make yourself throw when you’re running successfully.”
After forcing a Kentucky punt on its first possession, Georgia quickly established itself on the ground, rushing on every play on the way to a 2-yard touchdown run from Bennett. The 12-play, 86-yard drive took over five minutes off the clock and gave the Bulldogs an early 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter.
Following a pair of punts from each team, Kentucky embarked on a marathon drive of its own that drained much of the second quarter clock. The Wildcats kept the drive alive with a 4th-and-1 conversion on the Bulldogs’ 43-yard line, but the Georgia defense held firm in the red zone, culminating with a Travon Walker sack of quarterback Joey Gatewood. Kentucky grabbed its lone points of the game with a 34-yard field goal from Matt Ruffolo, finishing off the 19-play, 77-yard sequence that lasted over 10 minutes.
“(Kentucky) did a great job (of shortening the game),” said Smart. “They know that they were probably overmatched, and they shrunk the game. They ran the quarterback and they didn’t take many chances, but they stayed on schedule.”
The Georgia offense finally returned to the field in impressive fashion as Bennett found Cook for a 46-yard completion that was then bolstered by consecutive strong rushes from White, moving the ball to the Kentucky 10-yard line. However, the drive was cut short as Bennett’s pass was tipped for an interception by Kentucky’s Phil Hoskins at the 21-yard line. While the Wildcats were unable to convert on the turnover, the Bulldogs also came up empty as redshirt sophomore place kicker Jack Podlesny’s 53-yard field goal attempt was blocked at the end of the half.
On the opening possession of the second half, Georgia came out firing as Bennett connected with freshman tight end Darnell Washington on a 33-yard reception into Kentucky territory. Facing 4th-and-1 at the Wildcats’ 22-yard line, White broke through the line for a season-long 22-yard touchdown run, concluding a 7-play, 75-yard scoring drive.
Kentucky crossed into Georgia territory on the ensuing drive, but senior linebacker Monty Rice forced a Gatewood fumble that was recovered by senior safety Richard LeCounte at the 36-yard line, the sixth fumble recovery of his outstanding career. The Bulldogs reached midfield on the following drive, but the momentum was cut once again as Bennett was intercepted by Kelvin Joseph on a deep throw to the Kentucky 18.
Luckily for the Bulldogs, the defense remained stout throughout the game, forcing another Wildcat punt on the next drive. In the fourth quarter, the Wildcats looked to cut the deficit with another long march into Bulldog territory, but an incompletion on 4th-and-6 gave the ball back to Georgia with four minutes remaining in the game.
On their final possession, the Bulldogs were stopped on 4th-and-3 near the Kentucky red zone, but a pair of holding calls led to the Wildcats running out the clock to close the contest.
Georgia will now turn its attention toward a critical SEC East matchup against No. 8 Florida (2-1, 2-1 SEC) next Saturday, Nov. 8 at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Fla. The annual rivalry game will kick off at 3:30 p.m. and will be televised on CBS.