Jacob Eason and Sony Michel led the winning drive, Rodrigo Blankenship made the winning kick and the Georgia Bulldogs walked out of Lexington, Ky. Saturday evening with a last-gasp, 27-24 Southeastern Conference victory over the host Kentucky Wildcats.
The late drive, which began with 2:47 left to play after the Wildcats had cashed a field goal to tie the game at 24-24, brought back fond memories for long-time UGA fans as, way back in 1978 on this same field, Rex Robinson booted a 29-yard field goal with just seconds remaining to give the Bulldogs a sterling 17-16 comeback win over Kentucky. At that time, it was tailback Willie McClendon who turned in the big first-down runs to set the stage for Robinson’s winning kick.
Saturday night, Blankenship was true from 25 yards out as the final seconds ticked off the clock and it was the passing of freshman quarterback Eason and the running of junior tailback Michel who paced the Bulldogs from their own 25-yard line down to the Kentucky 8, to give Blankenship the chance to win it for Georgia … which the freshman did with his fourth field goal of the night.
This game wasn’t always a pretty one for the Bulldogs as they overcame numerous costly penalties and three lost fumbles to walk away with their fifth win of the season, but it was a victory that Kirby Smart’s football team desperately needed to stay on track for a winning campaign and a post-season bowl invitation. Georgia, now 5-4 and 3-4 SEC, must now brace for an even greater challenge, the arrival of the Auburn Tigers between the hedges this coming Saturday for a 3:30 p.m. kick on CBS-TV.
Let’s go ahead now and look at the weekly STATS THAT MATTER, figures that certainly look much brighter than those dreadful statistics which came out of the Florida debacle the previous Saturday down in Jacksonville.
Plays of 20 plus yards (offense/defense)
In the first half, Eason completed the 38-yard scoring pass to Isaiah McKenzie and a 51-yard strike to Javon Wims. Then in the second half Eason had a 29-yard pass to Isaac Nauta on Georgia’s go-ahead touchdown drive while Michel capped that drive with a 26-yard scoring run. Stanley Williams ripped off a 30-yard run to set up Kentucky’s first score, Benny Snell had a 26-yard burst for UK in the second half and Stephen Johnson had pass completions of 21 and 24 yards for the Cats.
The Bulldogs once moved even farther behind the chains in the first half when they were slapped with a delay-of-game penalty on a third-and-18 situation. Isaiah McKenzie had a costly fumble when failing to signal a fair catch on a Kentucky punt. The miscue set the Cats up at the Georgia 38 and led to the Wildcats’ second touchdown. A face mask call on linebacker Natrez Patrick kept a UK scoring drive alive, Nick Chubb lost two fumbles, the second of which was reviewed twice and eventually given back to Kentucky, and Dominick Sanders was slapped with an unsportsman-like penalty on the heels of Snell’s 26-yard run in the second half. Tackle Tyler Catalina was whistled for a false start on a fourth-down play when the Bulldogs needed only a foot to make a first down and Georgia’s other offensive tackle, Greg Pyke, was called for holding on a late Bulldog drive. Finally, the Bulldog sideline was slapped with a 5-yard interference penalty … whatever that is.
Special teams wins vs. miscues
The big wins on special teams were, of course, Blankenship’s four perfect field goal kicks, including the game-winner at the final gun. Freshman punter Marshall Long averaged 41.2 yards on five punts including one 50-yarder and two kicks downed inside the 20. The Bulldog kick coverage teams were good once again. Of course, one of the huge miscues that led to a go-ahead Kentucky touchdown was McKenzie’s fumble of the Wildcats’ punt in the second quarter, when he failed to call the fair catch with a UK gunner barreling down on top of him.
Although the Bulldog defense acquitted itself well down the stretch, it did whiff on a number of tackles during this game. On Kentucky’s first touchdown, Snell literally pulled Davin Bellamy into the end zone when he scored from three yards out and on Stanley Williams’ 13-yard score in the second quarter, he ran right through Georgia would-be tacklers Aaron Davis and Deandre Baker.
Yards after contact
Michel, rushing for a game-high 127 yards on 19 carries, continually pulled away from first hits and kept going for key first downs for the Bulldogs, especially in the second half. His clutch 26-yard touchdown that put Georgia ahead 24-21 with 9:12 remaining in the game was indeed a thing of beauty. Chubb also had his moments breaking tackles though his 85-yard rushing performance was marred somewhat by the two lost fumbles.
Georgia had the three lost fumbles while the Bulldogs gained two turnovers from the Wildcats, when senior DB Maurice Smith stripped a UK receiver of the ball and recovered on the spot and the other coming on Deandre Baker’s interception on a deep Kentucky pass that bounced off the receiver’s hands and right into Baker’s arms.
Red Zone (offense/defense)
The Bulldogs were 2-of-2 scoring when reaching the red zone but those were two of Blankenship’s field goals …. no touchdowns! Conversely, the Cats were a perfect 4-of-4 when motoring inside the Georgia 20 and three of those trips resulted in touchdowns.
Third down conversions
The Bulldogs were just 6-of-14 on third down conversions while the Wildcats were even worse, getting first downs just three times in 13 opportunities.
Run/pass attempts (total plays)
Georgia had 73 total plays in the win as the Bulldogs rushed for 215 yards on 42 carries and Jacob Eason completed 17-of-31 pass attempts for 245 yards and one touchdown. Kentucky ran 61 plays, running the ball 40 times for 186 yards and completing 11 of 21 passes for 122 yards.
While it is not a quantitative stat and it is hard to say whether or not if affected the offensive play calling, Jim Chaney was up in the press box for the first time all season, having coached from the sideline in the previous 8 games.