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Georgia-Kentucky Preview: When The Wildcats Have The Ball

Georgia's offense may match up well with a Kentucky defense that's been torched by numerous rushing attacks this season, but the flip side of that coin is a Wildcat attack that seems poised to strike directly at the most glaring weaknesses the Dawgs have exhibited as they've adapted to a new defensive coordinator and a new scheme. This one has the makings of a shootout -- maybe not as wild as Auburn-Arkansas, but perhaps not far off.

Passing: Averaging 270.6 yards per game, 25th in Division I-A. Mike Hartline actually leads the SEC with 230 passing attempts and 22.4 completions per game.
Rushing: Totaling 158.7 yards per game, 51st in the nation. Receiver Randall Cobb is third in the SEC and 11th nationally with 165 all-purpose yards per game.

Coming into this season, Kentucky was supposed to have one of the most diabolical running games in the country, while QB Mike Hartline was an afterthought. So how is it that Kentucky's running game is lagging so far behind the passing attack? For that, Wildcat fans can thank the traitorous shoulders of tailback Derrick Locke, who got hurt during Kentucky's close loss to Auburn, missed the subsequent game against South Carolina, and will more than likely be standing on the sidelines for the Georgia game this weekend. His replacement, Donald Russell, has totaled only 165 yards on 45 rushes this season; even all-purpose weapon Randall Cobb has totaled only 74 net yards rushing over the past two games. The upset over South Carolina notwithstanding, Locke's absence takes a big chunk out of the Wildcats' potency.

One of the Georgia defense's biggest vulnerabilities this season (and for several years now) has been mobile QBs; that doesn't look like it's going to be a problem this weekend, either. Mike Hartline has made impressive progress with his arm, but his feet appear to still be made of stone -- he's only netted nine yards on 14 carries. So for the first time in more than a month, Georgia's defense can rest easy knowing that the opposing QB won't be leaving the pocket unless his life absolutely depends on it.

No, there's only one dual threat the Bulldog D will have to worry about Saturday night, and his name is . . .

. . . Randall Cobb, who has contributed to the Kentucky offense literally every way he knows how. Officially, Cobb's position is wide receiver, and he's rolled up 466 yards and five touchdowns on 40 catches. However, he's also proven dangerous out of the backfield both as a rusher (32 carries for 195 yards, or 6.1 per carry, and three scores) and a passer (he's 4-of-6 for 51 yards, and three of those completions went for TDs). And as if that wasn't enough, he's got a 12th TD on a punt return and is averaging more than 23 yards per return on kickoffs, too. The fact that he hasn't yet been put in on defense to try and pull off a pick-six betrays a disgraceful lack of imagination on the part of Kentucky's coaches.

In short, Cobb is a nightmare for this Georgia defense. He's now terrorized three straight SEC opponents with a beautifully run wheel route, and the most recent of those opponents may have jeopardized their shot at an SEC title thanks to their inability to cover him. Georgia hasn't faced a truly elite passing attack since getting picked apart by Arkansas' Ryan Mallett in week 3, but that hasn't stopped any of those teams from converting third downs through the air like it was going out of style. In fact, before the Dawgs gathered themselves up and stomped on Vandy's necks last week, their BCS-conference opponents were converting third downs at right around a 50-percent clip.

Compounding the problem is the fact that Georgia's DBs will have other deep threats besides Cobb to worry about. Senior Chris Matthews is actually the team's leading receiver (33 catches, 482 yards, 6 TDs) and ranks fourth in the SEC, one slot ahead of Cobb; La'Rod King also has 249 yards and three scores on 24 catches, and there are three receivers after him (not counting Derrick Locke) who have at least 10 receptions and 100 yards. For this you can thank the UK offensive line, which has done an admirable job of protecting Mike Hartline despite returning only one starter from last year. In fact, last week's matchup with South Carolina was the first time Hartline had suffered multiple sacks in a single game since the season opener against Louisville -- and he still managed to throw for 349 yards and all four of the Wildcats' TDs. If Justin Houston wants to add to his SEC-leading 6.5 sacks, he's going to have his work cut out for him.

Georgia FS Shawn Williams vs. Kentucky WR Randall Cobb. Williams has benefited from some recent personnel shuffling in the struggling Georgia secondary -- he had two tackles in his first start against Tennessee two weeks ago, and had an impressive performance against Vandy last week. There's a big difference, though, between the passing attacks of Tennessee and Vanderbilt and the one Kentucky will throw at the Dawgs on Saturday night. Williams and, indeed, Georgia's entire defensive backfield will have to account for Cobb's whereabouts on every single play, while at the same time managing not to leave other deep threats such as Chris Matthews and La'Rod King uncovered. It's easily their biggest challenge since facing Ryan Mallett and the Arkansas passing attack a month ago.

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.