ATHENS, Ga. — The drought is over for Georgia.
The Bulldogs are going back to the Southeastern Conference championship game for the first time since 2005 and for the fourth time in 11 seasons under coach Mark Richt.
They muddled through a 19-10 victory Saturday against Kentucky to clinch the SEC East title.
Georgia was lackluster on offense on a day it committed four turnovers and was depleted again at tailback because of an injury and a suspension.
So it only figured that the only touchdown the No. 13 Bulldogs scored came when receiver Marlon Brown ran the wrong route.
The way Georgia (9-2, 7-1 SEC) sealed the deal wasn’t as important to the team as the obstacles it overcame this year along the way.
“I told the guys that this one might be the most meaningful for me,” Richt said. “I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it certainly was today. It definitely was today. Just how we got here, it was different.”
Georgia became the first team to reach the SEC title game after starting a season 0-2 and did it coming off a 6-7 year, the program’s first losing season in 14 years.
After winning its ninth consecutive game for the first time since 1982, the Bulldogs will play either No. 1 Louisiana State University, No. 3 Alabama or No. 6 Arkansas for the conference championship on Dec. 3 at the Georgia Dome.
“Everybody got off the bandwagon and thought we weren’t going to make it,” safety Bacarri Rambo said of the two losses to top-15 teams. “Hats off to coach Richt and the seniors for great leadership. They just kept pushing and motivating us.”
With tailback Carlton Thomas suspended for the third time this season because of a rule violation, the last thing Georgia needed was its top rusher, Isaiah Crowell, to be lost for the game with a sprained left ankle after only two carries.
That left former walk-on Brandon Harton and reserve Ken Malcome, who briefly quit the team this season, to run the ball.
Georgia’s points in the first half consisted of four Blair Walsh field goals – three from 39 yards and the other from 25.
Kentucky led 10-6 in the second quarter after a 2-yard touchdown from Maxwell Smith to tight end Tyler Robinson, but the Bulldogs – a 31-point favorite – went to the locker room with a 12-10 halftime lead.
“In the second half, they understood it was on us,” defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “We had a two-point lead. As a defensive player, that’s kind of what you live for. Go back out and do it again.”
Kentucky went three-and-out on five consecutive second-half possessions and mustered just 13 second-half yards.
“We always want to be in that position,” said outside linebacker Jarvis Jones. “We want to come out there and stone the offense.”
The Wildcats (4-7, 1-6) saw their five-season streak of playing in a bowl game end on a day when Georgia’s defense forced four turnovers, had six sacks and limited Kentucky to 165 total yards.
Quarterback Aaron Murray (16 of 29 for 162 yards, one touchdown and one interception) hit Brown on a 7-yard touchdown in the back of the end zone with 14:55 to play. The junior receiver was supposed to run a curl and go route, but didn’t.
Harton finished with 101 yards on 23 carries after having 12 yards at halftime. He lost two fumbles and Malcome lost one.