It might not have been pretty, but Georgia leaned on their run-game to outlast Kentucky 14-3, which is the program’s eleventh straight win over the Wildcats.
“I am excited for our guys for a big win and it was one of those games that was tough and hard-fought,” Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said in his opening statement. “It was probably costly in a lot of ways in terms of guys being dinged up from injuries, but every time we play them (Kentucky) it’s a physical war.
Georgia will look to regroup after a tough outing against the Wildcats where the offense looked bleak at times, and injuries just hurt them even more.
Injuries plague the Bulldogs
Smart was indeed right as Georgia was without running back Kendall Milton and wide receiver George Pickens for starters. Then, you had inside linebacker Monty Rice battling a foot injury.
Once the game began, it was a cascading merry-go-round of Georgia players being helped off the field. Defensive lineman Julian Rochester succumbed to an injury, and nose tackle Jordan Davis was seen on the sideline in the second half with a sling over his shoulder. Rice’s backup, Quay Walker, was then taken off the field due to an injury. Finally, safety Lewis Cine was seen roaming the sidelines and Ben Cleveland was replaced on the offensive.
Senior safety Richard LeCounte offered his thoughts after the game.
“It’s sorry to say, but it’s really is the next man up in this profession,” LeCounte said after the game. “We’ve got guys that came here to do these things, ya know, a couple of guys got dinged up, but we will really come back this week and fix what we need to fix from today’s game. We will get guys ready and there’s a lot of guys that’s waiting to get their chance to show the world what they can do. I pray for a speedy recovery for the guys that got hurt.”
LeCounte put it exactly the way it needed to be said. Georgia has to have that ‘next man up’ mentality heading into their matchup against Florida if they want to win.
Still, there were some positive takeaway from today’s game.
Georgia’s run game is back to high productivity
Georgia’s offense rushed for 215 yards on 43 carries as they averaged exactly 5.0 yards per attempt. The Bulldogs were led by redshirt sophomore Zamir White, who rushed for 136 yards on 26 carries and one touchdown. This was White’s first 100-plus yard performance as a Bulldog and he averaged 5.2 yards per attempt.
Junior James Cook toted the ball six times for 39 yards while freshman Kendall Milton had eight carries for 31 yards. Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett had three carries for nine yards and a score. In fact, Bennett’s touchdown came on Georgia’s first drive of the game as he tip-toed into the endzone on a read-option play.
This was the first team this season that the Bulldogs averaged over 5.0 yards per carry in a game, which is something that needs to keep continuing in case they want to be successful.
Pass defense getting improving
Georgia’s secondary has been gashed several times this season through the air. Tennessee’s Jarrett Guarantano was able to do it twice and Alabama’s Mac Jones was able to do it several times over the top of Georgia defenders. Well, today Georgia held Kentucky’s Joey Gatewood to just 91 yards passing as he completed 15 of 25 attempts.
Kentucky’s explosive wide receiver Josh Ali was held to just five catches for 35 yards. Some might say Kentucky isn’t a passing offense, and they’re right, but Gatewood had 25 attempts. Even though he wasn’t that great, don’t downplay Georgia’s defenders being able to keep Kentucky’s receivers in check.
The Bulldogs had five total pass breakups today, which ties a season-high. This was the second game out of five where Georgia was able to not give up a long pass play downfield. That’s something that you want to see out of a secondary that has technically been the weakest link of the best defense in the country.
The game itself
The Bulldogs’ opening drive was quite promising as they drove down the field rushing 12 times for 71 yards. A 15-yard personal foul on Kentucky’s Jamin Davis helped the Bulldogs down the field, but that doesn’t take away from how assertive Georgia was on the ground. At that point, all points indicated that Georgia would have a lot of success scoring against a beaten up Kentucky defense.
Unfortunately that wasn’t the case as Kentucky changed the pace of the game on their only scoring drive in the second quarter. The Wildcats got the ball with 13:12 to go in the first half on their own seven-yard line and imposed their will on Georgia’s defensive line. Kentucky running back Chris Rodriguez was a dominant force as the Bulldogs couldn’t stop his ground attack.
The Wildcats ate up 10:28 of the clock and capped off a 19-play, 77-yard drive with a made field goal by Matt Ruffolo. On that drive, Georgia had many missed tackles as Rodriguez was the main focal point for Kentucky’s offense. Wildcats’ quarterback Joey Gatewood has a few good scrambles, but ultimately couldn’t get anything going as his running back assisted him greatly.
On the ensuing possession, Bennett hooked up with Cook on a 45-yard connection downfield and White picked up a 19-yard gain on the ground the next two plays. Except the drive suddenly ended when Bennett’s pass was tipped by a Kentucky defensive lineman and intercepted. Which reminded a lot of fans about what happened against Alabama two weeks prior.
The Georgia defense forced a three-and-out on the next drive as they got the ball back with 18 seconds left to go in the half. Bennett hit receiver Kearis Jackson on a 10-yard gain where he was able to get out of bounds. Freshman Jermaine Burton caught an 11-yard pass where he failed to get out of bounds, and Bennett hurried the team up to the line of scrimmage for a spike. That set up placekicker Jack Podlesney for a 53-yard field goal that blocked and it ended the half.
Georgia led 7-3 heading into halftime after a frustrating first half in which they had several opportunities to extend their lead.
Although, the first of the drive of the second half was just what they needed.
A pair of successful runs by White set up Bennett connecting with freshman tight-end Darnell Washington on a 32-yard gain that moved the ball into Kentucky territory. A couple of plays later Georgia faced a critical fourth down and one on the Wildcats’ 22-yard line. That’s when White ran through the hole hard scoring the final points of the game as Georgia led 14-3.
Both teams traded turnovers as Kentucky’s Gatewood fumbled and it was picked up by LeCounte. Senior inside linebacker Monty Rice, who played injured, was credited with the fumble. On the next drive, Bennett’s pass was picked as that was Kentucky’s tenth overall interception of the season, which is a stat they currently lead the nation in. Freshman wide receiver Marcus Rosemary-Jacksaint ran the wrong route and it showed as Bennett’s pass was where it needed to be.
Throughout the rest of the game, Georgia’s defense was able to make stops to hold Kentucky to just three points. The Bulldogs forced Gatewood into a lot of situations where he was moving around a lot in the pocket. Also, Kentucky’s offense just wasn’t comfortable enough with him being able to throw the long ball. That especially showed later in the game when they didn’t really have a plan for a potential comeback.
Stats and Quotes
The Wildcats one-dimensional finished with 229 yards of total offense (138 rush/91 pass). Despite the long scoring drive in the second quarter, Kentucky was held to just 3.8 yards per rush in the loss. On the other hand, Georgia finished with 346 yards of total offense with 131 of those yards through the air.
Bennett finished the game by completing nine of 13 passes for 131 yards and two interceptions. Although, he did average 14.6 yards per pass attempt, which is decent considering Georgia didn’t throw the ball much with the absence of Pickens. Cook led the team in receiving with 62 yards on four receptions followed by Jackson with three catches for 25 yards.
“Stetson has done a nice job, we only had three (first-half) possessions,” Smart said. “He did a good job on one of them, one of them we come up just short, we’re third and 5 or 6 inches short, and the other one we throw a pick on the tipped ball.”
Bennett was his own biggest critic today after the game.
“I thought we played well except for me today. I didn’t think I played horrible. But those two passes.”
Georgia’s defense won’t get enough credit today because of its offensive struggles, but sophomore Nakobe Dean was all over the field today. Dean is a very similar player to former Bulldog and current Chicago Bear Roquan Smith. Dean led the team with 14 total tackles and one quarterback hurry. LeCounte followed with 13 total stops, six solo tackles and three pass breakups with a fumble recovery.
“..There’s nothing that can stop us from being able to stop those guys,” LeCounte said. “Kentucky had great momentum going into it and we were able to pick up some ourselves going into the end. That shows our toughness and physicality and that was pretty much it.”
See what Smart had to say after the game: