Georgia’s young defense has continually improved throughout Kirby Smart’s first season as head coach, but it will face a unique challenge at Kentucky on Saturday night.

The Wildcats are 5-3 and second in the SEC East largely due to the strength of their rushing attack. Kentucky is fifth in the SEC in rushing yards per game, averaging nearly 220 yards.

In last weekend’s surprise thrashing of Missouri, Kentucky ran the ball at will: 59 carries for a staggering 377 yards and 3 touchdowns. This wasn’t a wholesale team effort, however; 374 of those yards came from two players: Benjamin Snell Jr. and Stanley “Boom” Williams.

Snell and Williams (below) are Kentucky’s dynamic running back tandem. Williams, a junior, is a true home run threat and Snell, a freshman, is a hard-nosed runner who is tough to bring down. Together, they form the type of combination that Georgia was supposed to have with Nick Chubb and Sony Michel.

Oct 29, 2016; Columbia, MO, USA; Kentucky Wildcats running back Stanley Williams (18) runs in for a touchdown as Missouri Tigers safety Cam Hilton (7) and linebacker Donavin Newsom (25) attempt the tackle during the first half at Faurot Field. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

“Snell is a really good player,” Smart said at his Monday press conference. “Talking to the teams who’ve played him, they talk about how physical he is and how good a downhill runner he is. And then they’ve got the changeup with Boom and Jojo (Kemp). So they’ve really got some good backs and they do a good job of using them.”

Kentucky’s two main running backs have accounted for 1,482 yards, which is 46 percent of the team’s total offensive output. In order to beat the Wildcats, teams have to slow down their rushing onslaught. That’s easier said than done, however.

Since beginning the season 0-2, Kentucky’s offense found new life behind quarterback Stephen Johnson. The junior quarterback proved capable of picking up crucial first downs with his legs to keep drives alive, which allowed Kentucky to find more consistency on offense.

Once Johnson joined the starting lineup, his presence had a positive impact on the running game. Since Week 3, only Alabama has held Kentucky under 200 yards rushing.

It’s worth mentioning that Georgia’s defense will be by far the best unit against the run that Kentucky has seen since Alabama. The Bulldogs are fourth in the SEC, allowing just under 110 yards per outing.

This isn’t just a traditional run-oriented offense, though. Kentucky lives up to its nickname by utilizing the “Wildcat” formation to great effect.

“Those guys in Wildcat have been really productive,” Smart said Monday. “And you say, ‘Well, it makes it easy when they get in Wildcat,’ and I’ve usually thought that, but they do things by motioning the quarterback out, bringing him back in; they do some creative things to create problems in the run game.”

The Wildcat formation will force Georgia to maintain great gap integrity. Kentucky is rarely more talented that its opponent, but it wears defenses down both physically and mentally. One mental mistake, and the Wildcats can create a big play on the ground.

Tackling has been a problem for the Bulldogs at times this season, most notably in the Tennessee game, but it has improved in recent weeks. Against Kentucky, Georgia can’t afford to miss tackles and extend drives.

The Wildcats are converting 38.5 percent of their third downs – a higher percentage than the Bulldogs – and are among the best in the country at creating explosive plays in the run game. They have 18 rushes longer than 20 yards (Georgia has just five).

Georgia is among the very best in the SEC at limiting explosive plays on the ground. The Dawgs have allowed just five runs of 20 yards or more (only LSU and Alabama have allowed fewer), which means Kentucky will have to earn every yard.

The strength on strength matchup Saturday could be just what the Bulldogs need to get back on track. The only thing Kentucky does at a truly great level is run the football. In recent weeks, Georgia has become proficient at defending the run. Teams are only averaging 3.24 yards per carry against the Bulldogs this season, and that number has dropped to 2.12 over the past four games.

The Bulldogs’ offense will likely decide whether this game is won or lost, but the defense is certainly capable of neutralizing the Wildcats’ best plan of attack.

William McFadden covers the University of Georgia for Saturday Down South. For news on everything happening between the hedges, follow him on Twitter @willmcfadden