FACTS & STATS: Site: Commonwealth Stadium (65,000) — Lexington, Kentucky. Television: CSS. Home Record: Georgia 3-1, Kentucky 3-1. Away Record: Georgia 0-3, Kentucky 1-2. Neutral Record: Georgia 0-0, Kentucky 0-0. Conference Record: Georgia 2-3, Kentucky 1-3. Series Record: Georgia leads, 49-12-2.
Georgia opened the season an unthinkable 1-4, but Mark Richt has found a way to right the ship. His Bulldogs have posted back-to-back victories over league foes by a combined scored of 84-14, including last weekend’s 43-0 whipping of Vanderbilt. Georgia is 2-3 in SEC action and will attempt to even that record on Saturday.
As for Kentucky, it managed to halt a three-game skid with a 31-28 upset of then-10th-ranked South Carolina last weekend. That victory was highly impressive for first-year head coach Joker Phillips and his squad, especially considering that the Gamecocks had beaten then-top-ranked Alabama the previous week. The Wildcats are 4-3 overall, but just one of their wins have come against league competition.
Although Georgia owns a commanding 49-12-2 series advantage over Kentucky, the Wildcats won last season’s meeting by a 34-27 final, their first win against the Bulldogs on the road since 1977.
The Bulldogs are generating 29.7 ppg and 395.3 total ypg this season, and young Aaron Murray has been strong under center. The redshirt freshman has completed 61.9 percent of his passes for 1,653 yards and 12 touchdowns with three interceptions. In the three games that star receiver A.J. Green has played since returning from suspension, he has made 16 catches for 279 yards and four touchdowns. Kris Durham paces Georgia with 22 catches, while Washaun Ealey leads the ground attack with 369 yards.
Opponents are scoring just 17.4 ppg against Georgia, which has been tremendous on the defensive side of the ball, especially for a 3-4 football team. The Bulldogs are allowing only 290.1 total ypg, including just 103.4 rushing ypg at a clip of 2.9 yards per carry. There is some room for improvement against the pass, as Georgia is yielding 15.2 yards per completion. If those big passing plays can be eliminated, and that has certainly been the case the last two weeks, Georgia has a chance to be one of the better teams in the SEC. Keep an eye on Akeem Dent, as his 62 total tackles lead the team by a landslide. Justin Houston paces the squad with 6.5 sacks.
Against Vanderbilt last weekend, Georgia posted 547 total yards while allowing just 140 yards, a truly dominant performance by Richt’s troops. The Bulldogs rushed for 232 yards, while Murray racked up 287 yards and two scores through the air. Ealey finished with 123 rushing yards and a touchdown, while Durham posted four catches for 122 yards and a score. One of the most impressive stats of all from that tilt was that Georgia limited Vandy to 1-of-11 success on third-down conversion attempts.
Throughout his career at Kentucky, many have questioned whether quarterback Mike Hartline is good enough to win consistently in the SEC. Against South Carolina last weekend, Hartline silenced many critics by completing 32-of-42 passes for 349 yards and four touchdowns with zero interceptions. Chris Matthews was clearly the signal caller’s top target, as he hauled in 12 catches for 177 yards and a touchdown. The Wildcats possessed the ball for nearly 35 minutes and finished with 401 yards of total offense.
Defensively, Kentucky permitted 472 total yards to South Carolina last weekend, but all 28 points surrendered to the Gamecocks came in the first half. The fact that the Wildcats were able to pitch a shutout over the final 30 minutes was highly impressive and allowed the comeback to materialize.
Overall this season, Kentucky is generating 35.3 ppg and 429.3 total ypg, and there are four big-time talents on offense. Hartline has completed 68.3 percent of his passes for 1,791 yards and 13 touchdowns with three interceptions, while Matthews has made 33 catches for 482 yards and six scores. Randall Cobb, college football’s most versatile player, has made 40 catches for 466 yards and five scores while also rushing for 195 yards and three touchdowns. Cobb has thrown touchdowns on three of the four passes he has completed and has even returned a punt for a touchdown. As for standout tailback Derrick Locke, who missed the South Carolina game with a shoulder injury, he figured to be held out of action against Georgia as well.
Opponents are generating 29.9 ppg against Kentucky, which is surrendering 361.9 total ypg. The Wildcats have allowed 4.7 yards per rushing attempt and 13.7 yards per pass completion, so there is room for improvement against both means of attack. Danny Trevathan has clearly been the most active defender for coach Phillips, as he has registered 70 total tackles, 24 more than his closest teammate. Trevathan has nine TFLs to his credit.
Expect this game to go down to the wire, and while Georgia is undoubtedly playing with a high level of confidence, give a narrow edge to Kentucky. Cobb will show his versatility and be the difference in this showdown.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Kentucky 30, Georgia 27
October 23rd, 7:30 p.m. (et)