ATHENS, Ga. — There have been days of dissecting what went wrong in its last game against South Carolina and plenty of looking ahead to the high stakes that could be riding on the game coming next week against Florida.
That’s what happens when Georgia loses by four touchdowns to the Gamecocks and is favored by nearly four touchdowns Saturday at Kentucky.
“We just can’t take anybody lightly,” Georgia cornerback Branden Smith said. “We’ve got to play every game like it’s a big game. This is a big game. We just took a loss to South Carolina, so we really can’t afford any more losses.”
The 13th-ranked Bulldogs are a 27 1/2-point favorite, the largest point spread on the road for Georgia dating back to 1976, according to Brandon Pertner, assistant editor of Phil Steele Productions.
The last time Georgia was favored by 20 on the road was 2004 at Kentucky. The Bulldogs won 62-17.
Georgia coaches have tried to let their players know the Wildcats can put up a fight this time.
“Like I told our players, the South Carolina game, the score is 17-7 at half and they’re winning the game,” Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said of the Sept. 29 game in which the Gamecocks came back to beat Kentucky 38-17. “You see runners running through guys and making some plays. On any given Saturday, anybody can beat you. We’re playing up there. Any time you play on the road in this league is going to be a battle. We’re a ranked opponent going into their place. That’s going to create some energy for them, and they’re in a no-lose situation, so you know you’re going to get everything they’ve got.”
Georgia clung to a 12-10 lead against Kentucky last season until early in the fourth quarter of a 19-10 victory.
“If you watch them play us last year, and a lot of those guys are back, and if you watch the first half of their South Carolina game, you see what you could be in for,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “Some teams, especially young teams, play better at home than away, and we’ll be at their home and they’ll have a comfort zone there. We just have to get after it because we have our own problems. We have enough problems of our own.”
Georgia has let teams that most figured it would bury hang around with them.
Buffalo trailed Georgia 24-16 at halftime before losing 45-23. Florida Atlantic was down 28-14 in the first half before the Bulldogs pulled away for a 56-20 rout.
Kentucky is No. 102 in the Sagarin Ratings. That’s ahead of Buffalo at 151 and Florida Atlantic at 166.
The three are among 15 Football Bowl Subdivision teams with one or no wins this season.
Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo suggested that the Wildcats will be pumped up because 23 players on Kentucky’s roster are from Georgia. That’s more than any other state besides Kentucky.
“They’re going to be excited about playing us,” Bobo said. “It’s going to be a night game. Any time you play really anywhere in this conference, there is excitement. It’s on the road and at night, so we’ve got to be ready to play.”
Given how the Bulldogs played in the 35-7 loss at South Carolina, being motivated for this game should be easier than those September games.
“I think we’re going to be ready to play,” offensive tackle John Theus said. “We know we need to bounce back. We’ve been working hard. … We’re not taking this game lightly at all. This is a big game for us. This is the biggest game on our schedule right now.”
Said offensive guard Dallas Lee: “Everybody’s hungry. We didn’t have a good showing against South Carolina. That’s been weighing on everybody. With the off week, we didn’t have a chance to go out and play somebody and get that bad taste out of your mouth. We’re excited to go get to play Kentucky. It’s the next game, it’s the next step to where we want to get. We know we need to work on coming out, starting fast, playing fast, playing the whole game the way we can. That will be crucial to getting us back to where we want to go.”