Georgia football: Grading the Bulldogs after their big win at Kentucky
At the beginning of the season, Georgia was a heavy favorite to win the SEC East. Challengers have come and gone during the past two months, and it seemed like the Bulldogs had a new, viable threat every week.
Saturday it was No. 9 Kentucky, which came into the game with the same 7-1 record Georgia had. But the No. 6 Bulldogs prevailed, winning 34-17 to clinch their second consecutive SEC East title and set up a rematch against Alabama in the SEC title game.
Here’s what I liked — and didn’t like — about the Bulldogs’ big victory over Kentucky:
What I liked
Running game puts on a show
It’s always impressive when you roll up 331 rushing yards in a game, but it’s even more impressive when you do it against a team ranked No. 1 in the country in scoring defense and No. 10 in total defense. Kentucky has been that good, but that didn’t matter to the Bulldogs. D’Andre Swift led the way with 156 yards, a lot of that coming on an impressive 83-yard scoring run, a season high. Elijah Holyfield also went over 100, gaining 115 yards on 18 carries. What was most impressive about that total is that the Bulldogs’ offensive line was banged up coming into the game and then lost two stars — senior center Lamont Gaillard and freshman guard Cade Mays — along the way.
Defense bends but doesn’t break early
Kentucky got into Georgia territory three consecutive times in the first half, but only wound up having three points to show for it. Each time, the Georgia defense came up with a huge play to keep Kentucky from threatening. On the first drive, Brenton Cox had a big sack of Kentucky quarterback Terry Wilson on third down to keep them out of field goal position. On the second drive, Juwan Taylor forced a fumble after a completed pass and freshman cornerback Tyson Campbell recovered. The third drive, which had gotten all the way down to the Georgia 6-yard line, ended when freshman Channing Tindall got a sack on third-and-9 after false start. The field goal was a win for Georgia, which made it 7-3. Those three drives turn out differently for Kentucky, and maybe the game does, too.
Fast start once again takes crowd out of the game
It’s amazing how often the Bulldogs get off to fast starts, especially on the road. They did it again Saturday, scoring first and taking a lot of energy out of the stadium. Kentucky got the ball first, but punted after four plays. Mecole Hardman returned the punt 65 yards to put the Bulldogs in great field position. Three straight runs by Holyfield took the ball to the 4-yard line, where quarterback Jake Fromm his tight end Isaac Nauta for a score. Fromm, who had three touchdown passes on third down last week against Florida, started it off with another one. It quieted the Kentucky fans in a hurry.
What I didn’t like
More struggles pounding it in at the goal line
Georgia just won the SEC East, so it’s really hard to go ripping away, but there were a few things that were bothersome. The biggest was another failed situation at the goal line, where they couldn’t bang it in after three tries, starting from the 4-yard line. Georgia was forced to settle a for a field goal after getting stuffed twice on second and third down from the 1-yard line. The same thing happened last week against Florida, where they failed on six tries on one possession. That’s something that needs to get fixed going forward, for sure. FYI, a play-action pass to tight end might work next time.
Injuries are adding up, and that’s scary
Georgia’s depth got tested a lot Saturday, because guys were dropping like flies, especially in the first half. The medical tent was a busy place. D’Andre Walker, Georgia’s best pash rusher, actually had to go to the locker room with a foot injury, but he returned. Center Lamont Gaillard went down with a hyperextended knee and never returned, and true freshman Trey Hill struggled as his replacement. Freshman guard Cade Mays went down, too, as did Hardman. With Auburn up next and another physical game expected, it’s going to be interesting to see who can answer the bell next week.