LEXINGTON, Ky. — Hardly anything went right for Georgia two weekends ago in a four-touchdown drubbing at South Carolina and the No. 13 Bulldogs didn’t look much like a title contender for much of Saturday night against lowly Kentucky.
Guess what? The Bulldogs will still make their annual trip to Jacksonville, Fla., next Saturday with things having fallen together rather nicely around them.
Georgia can control its own destiny in the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division race by knocking off unbeaten Florida.
The Bulldogs were assured of that thanks to a big night from quarterback Aaron Murray, who threw for a career-high 427 yards and four touchdowns in a less-than-impressive 29-24 victory before 54,553 at Commonwealth Stadium.
Beating the Wildcats was expected to be the easy part Saturday given the Wildcats’ struggles this season. It wasn’t.
The Bulldogs trailed for much of the first half, by a point in the third quarter and allowed the Wildcats to go 75 yards on a touchdown drive with 3:59 to play that ended on a 3-yard scoring run from Raymond Sanders to pull within five points.
The big piece of the puzzle on the day was put in place before the Bulldogs (6-1, 4-1 SEC) kicked off when the Gators blasted South Carolina in Gainesville, Fla.
Georgia coach Mark Richt and the Bulldogs were openly rooting for the Gators (7-0, 6-0) to beat South Carolina (6-2, 4-2). Now they resume their role as fierce rivals.
The Bulldogs will be underdogs to the No. 3 Gators and will probably need to step up their game in a big way after fighting to get by a team that lost for the sixth consecutive time, had lost by an average of 28.5 points in SEC play and was coming off a 49-7 weather-shortened loss at Arkansas.
Georgia was favored by 25½ points against the Wildcats, but its issues on defense and special teams remain. On a night Murray moved past David Greene on Georgia’s career touchdown passing list, the Wildcats gashed Georgia for more than 200 yards, including 137 yards in the first half despite entering the game ranked last in the SEC and 106th in the nation.
The Wildcats (1-7, 0-5) hadn’t scored an offensive touchdown in the first quarter in 20 games since the last regular season game of the 2010 season against Tennessee, but quarterback Morgan Newton threw a 4-yard TD pass to Aaron Boyd for the opening score.
Kentucky led 14-7 after the Wildcats dipped into its back of tricks to set up its second touchdown.
Quarterback Jared Whitlow threw a backwards pass to Demarco Robinson, who tossed a pass across to Whitlow that was tipped by nose guard John Jenkins but caught on the right side and taken for 33 yards. Two plays later, Newton scored on a 2-yard touchdown run to go up 14-7 with 11:54 left in the second quarter.
Georgia got on the scoreboard when Murray (career-high 30 completions in 38 attempts) hit Tavarres King on a 66-yard touchdown. Murray used a pump fake and King got behind sophomores Miles Simpson and Asheley Lowery with 22 seconds left in the first quarter.
On the Bulldogs’ second scoring drive in the second quarter, Murray looked a little gimpy after he was tackled on one play, but he connected with King for 48 yards to beat freshman Cody Quinn on the play and then beat David Greene’s career record with a 1-yard touchdown pass to King for his 73rd career touchdown pass. Murray took a cleat in the calf on the drive, but he finished the game with 75 touchdown passes for his career.
Marshall Morgan was wide right on the point after the second Georgia score to keep the Wildcats ahead 14-13 and his 27-yard field goal as time expired for halftime caromed off the left upright and went through to give Georgia a 16-14 lead.
The Bulldogs went three-and-out to start the third quarter and Kentucky went back ahead on a 37-yard Craig McIntosh field goal.
The Wildcats got help when safety Bacarri Rambo was flagged on a 15-yard personal foul after a hit out of bounds on George after a 9-yard run. That gave the Wildcats the ball at the Georgia 18.
Georgia tried a fake punt in the third quarter with a direct snap to Malcolm Mitchell with fourth-and-on-1 at its own 46, but the 33-yard gain was wiped out by an illegal formation penalty and the Bulldogs punted.
Murray moved the Bulldogs down field to take the lead, completing passes to Mitchell for 12 yards, King for 13, McGowan for 10 before finding Chris Conley across the middle on a 22-yard touchdown for a 22-17 lead.
Kentucky moved the ball to the Georgia 32, but Alec Ogletree dropped Robinson for a six-yard loss on an end around, forcing a punt.
Georgia tacked on another touchdown after a drive was kept alive when Kentucky’s Mike Douglass ran into punter Collin Barber, giving the Bulldogs the ball at its own 25.
Murray led Georgia down field and hit tight end Arthur Lynch on a 10-yard touchdown to make it 29-17 to give the Bulldogs enough cushion to escape Lexington without being an upset victim.