LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky looks to reach what has been an elusive plateau when the Wildcats play host to a Georgia squad desperate to halt a stunning freefall.
Those are just some of the stakes in tonight’s matchup between teams on opposite paths. Georgia (4-4, 2-4 Southeastern Conference) has lost four of five entering the matchup with the Wildcats (5-3, 4-2 SEC), who have won five of six including three in a row and look to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2010.
The Bulldogs aim to halt Kentucky’s quest by ending their own slide that has them on the brink of falling below .500 after being in the Top 25 just over a month ago. Georgia managed just 164 yards of offense in last week’s 24-10 loss to No. 10 Florida in Jacksonville, an effort it can’t duplicate against a Kentucky team that’s rolling in many areas.
“We’ve got to be able to answer the things they give us,” first-year Georgia coach Kirby Smart said, “whether it’s throwing the ball, whether it’s running the ball outside or running the ball out of more spread formations. It certainly hasn’t been as consistent as we’d like it to be.”
Kentucky has shown a lot of resiliency since starting 0-2. Just two weeks ago the Wildcats’ postseason hopes seemed destined to take a serious blow before they rallied past Mississippi State 40-38 on a 51-yard field goal as time expired. They beat Missouri 35-21 last week.
Whether that gut check was a turning point in Kentucky’s season remains to be seen. But it has definitely given the Wildcats confidence they can achieve anything – including their best SEC mark in recent memory.
“It says a lot about this team’s character,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said of the run. “I don’t think any one thing has changed over the past five or six weeks, this has been going on for a long time. Coaches have worked hard for many years, doing things to put players in position to do good things.”
Some other things to watch as Georgia visits Kentucky:
TRENCH WARRIORS: Kentucky has averaged 299 yards rushing per game during its win streak and 261 per outing over the past six games. Credit goes to a deep offensive line anchored by senior center Jon Toth that has blended experience and youth after being sometimes criticized at times. “It feels good to be appreciated,” Toth said, “but we’ve always come out and tried to run the ball and protect the quarterback. We’re not doing anything different, just trying to do it as best we can every week.”
DEFENSIVE ‘DAWGS: Georgia remains one of the SEC’s top defensive teams, ranking fourth with an average of 326.1 yards allowed per contest. They’re also fourth against the rush (109.8) but face a big challenge against Kentucky’s ground game that’s averaging more than double that amount (219.5) behind the duo of Boom Williams and Benny Snell.
BIG-PLAY BADET: Not overshadowed by “Boom N’ Benny” is Kentucky wide receiver Jeff Badet, who has 243 yards and three TDs on 10 receptions the past two weeks with the scores covering 40, 44 and 65 yards. “Jeff has stepped up big and we needed him to,” Stoops said.
NO HANGOVER: No matter how Georgia has fared against Florida, a game better known as “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party,” the following game has recently provided an upside. The Bulldogs have won the past nine games following the Jacksonville showdown, including three wins over Kentucky.
NOSE FOR THE BALL: Junior college transfer Naquez Pringle has been a force at nose guard for the Wildcats since debuting at Florida. He ranks 11th on the team with 24 tackles the past seven games and made five tackles each against the Gators and Vanderbilt. A defense that was the SEC’s worst a few weeks ago has improved to 10th at 421.2 yards allowed per game.