ATHENS, Ga. — Aaron Murray can’t leave Georgia with a Southeastern Conference championship. He still can walk away with a win in his final home game at Sanford Stadium.
Georgia wasted a dramatic fourth-quarter comeback led by Murray in last week’s 43-38 loss to Auburn.
Kentucky will play at Georgia (6-4, 4-3 SEC) tonight, perhaps hoping the Bulldogs’ focus is still on last week’s loss which ended the team’s SEC championship hopes.
Kentucky (2-8, 0-6) will try to end its string of 14 consecutive conference losses.
Murray earned compliments for his lead role in Georgia’s comeback from a 37-17 fourth-quarter deficit, as he passed for 415 yards with two touchdowns while running for two touchdowns.
Even South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier tipped his visor in Murray’s direction.
“I will say Aaron Murray is one of the best passers to ever play in the SEC,” Spurrier said.
Georgia coach Mark Richt said Murray has continued to improve through his senior season.
“Just from a technical standpoint, he has improved every year,” Richt said. “Even that last ballgame. I don’t know how many times I’ve said it, but when you watch the game live, you knew he played good, but you go back and watch the film and you feel like he played even better. He’s a pretty spectacular performer.”
Georgia tailback Todd Gurley said Murray “is definitely the best quarterback in SEC history.”
The Wildcats must beat Georgia or Tennessee to avoid their second consecutive 0-8 finish in the SEC.
First-year coach Mark Stoops said he saw reason for encouragement in last week’s 22-6 loss at Vanderbilt.
“Under some tough circumstances with the wins and losses not going the way we want, I thought our preparation was right and I thought our attitude was right and I thought our fight was right,” Stoops said. “... I thought last week was as good as we’ve played all year with that mentality, a toughness and a desire and a hunger across the board to go out and win.”
Here are five things to watch as Kentucky visits Georgia:
• Another milestone for Murray. Murray, a senior, needs only 108 yards passing to reach 3,000 yards for the fourth straight season. He set the SEC record for career completions in the 43-38 loss at Auburn. He also set SEC career records for yards passing, total offense and touchdown passes this season.
• Rebound for Whitlow. Kentucky sophomore quarterback Jalen Whitlow completed only 14 of 28 passes for 120 yards and threw four interceptions against Vanderbilt. Whitlow threw only one interception in his first nine games.
• Focus on Georgia defense. Georgia has allowed more than 40 points in three games and at least 30 points seven times this season. On a day seniors will be honored, there are only two seniors on Georgia’s two-deep depth chart on defense — starting nose tackle Garrison Smith and backup safety Connor Norman. Auburn had 323 yards rushing, the high mark allowed by the Bulldogs this season. It will be important for Georgia to contain the Kentucky running game led by running back Raymond Sanders and Jojo Kemp and put pressure on Whitlow.
• Time for a pick. Linebacker Josh Forrest has the Kentucky defense’s only interception, putting pressure on the secondary to end its drought. Stoops said it would help the defense if the offense could take a lead, putting pressure on Georgia’s offense to put the ball in the air. “The lead helps,” Stoops said. “It’s no mystery we’re struggling to score points. ... Most teams know that with the way we’re struggling to put the ball in the end zone it would be careless to throw the ball up and put it in a bad situation. You have an opportunity to get lots of interceptions when your team is scoring a bunch of points and the other team is playing from behind. We know that hasn’t been the situation this year.”
• Tackle for tackle. Georgia and Kentucky have the SEC’s top three leaders in tackles. Georgia linebacker Ramik Wilson holds the lead with 110, followed by teammate Amarlo Herrera (91) and Kentucky senior middle linebacker Avery Williamson (88).