Georgia is used to playing big games that determine division, conference or national titles. It has been that way forever, so Saturday’s big showdown with No. 11 Kentucky in Lexington is just another Saturday, more or less.
This is all new for Kentucky, which has only won one SEC championship outright (1950) since joining the league in its inaugural season of 1933, and hasn’t even shared a title since 1976. But that’s where we stand. No. 6 Georgia and the Wildcats are both 7-1 overall and 5-1 in the SEC. The winner of Saturday’s game (3:30 p.m. ET; TV: CBS) wins the SEC East and punches its ticket to the conference title game in Atlanta on Dec. 1.
Georgia is a 9.5-point favorite, even on the road, so there are plenty of good reasons for Bulldogs fans to feel cocky and confident about this one. But not so fast. There are legitimate reasons for concern about this game, because everything just seems to be falling into place for Kentucky.
So, yes, watch out.
Here are 5 things Bulldogs fans should be worried about regarding Kentucky:
1. Kentucky’s defense is legitimately good
In almost every important category, Kentucky’s defense outranks Georgia. The Wildcats are No. 1 in the country in scoring defense (13.0 points per game), tied with Clemson. Georgia is No. 12 at 16.4. Kentucky is 10th in total defense, while Georgia is 14th. Kentucky is 16th against the run, which Georgia ranks a pedestrian No. 44.
And just when you’re ready to argue schedule, Kentucky’s numbers are even better by comparison to Georgia with their four common opponents thus far, SEC East rivals Florida, South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Missouri. Kentucky has the edge in scoring (13.7 to 19.0) and total defense (303.5 to 341.2). Georgia’s offense is definitely going to be in for a 60-minute battle.
2. Benny Snell Jr. is a stud running back
Georgia hasn’t exactly shut down the run all year, so look for Kentucky senior Benny Snell Jr. to make some noise Saturday. He has 935 yards rushing this season, and the junior from Westerville, Ohio, is on the verge of his third straight 1,000-yard rushing season at UK. He’s that good, and that steady.
What really has helped, too, is that Kentucky’s experienced offensive line has made room for him to run. Snell already has had three games of 165 yards or more (Florida, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt), and those are three good defenses, especially against the run. Georgia will have to keep him under control, which means limiting him to less than 100 yards. That could be tough.
3. Kentucky can’t throw — until it really matters
Transfer quarterback Terry Wilson hasn’t been very good and consistency has been a real issue. He’s probably more dangerous with his legs than his arm. He has only five touchdown passes all season and six interceptions.
But last week against Missouri, with title hopes still on the line and Kentucky trailing in the closing minutes, Wilson completed six straight passes on the eight-play, 81-yard game-winning drive. He hit C.J. Conrad for a 2-yard score with time expired on an untimed down after a controversial pass interference penalty as the Wildcats pulled out a 15-14 win. No one expected six straight completions from Wilson, but that had to give him a lot of confidence. Georgia can’t let him go off on Saturday.
4. The magic dust factor cannot be ignored
Some years, there’s that team that gets all the breaks and contends for division titles when it’s least expected. That’s Kentucky this year, without a doubt. Magic dust is a wonderful thing. The win last week over Missouri was a perfect example. If that pass interference call hadn’t been made — and it really could have gone either way — then Kentucky would have lost.
They also got a break playing Florida so early in the season, when Gators coach Dan Mullen hadn’t put an imprint on his team. The Wildcats finally broke their three-decade losing streak to the Gators. Even in their one loss, in overtime on the road at Texas A&M, a tipped pass for an interception kept the Wildcats in the game. So they’ve been getting all the bounces and that helps. Will that trend continue?
5. And then there’s that once-in-a-lifetime moment
It is November in Kentucky, so basketball season is right around the corner. Kentucky is a basketball school with eight national titles, and football has always just been the warmup act. But now here’s this game for all the marbles, so you know this sold-out crowd is going to be juiced and loud.
Some are saying this is the biggest football game ever in Lexington, and considering the Wildcats’ history in football, that’s not really wrong. It’s going to be a special day for sure.