Lexington was a very tricky place to be for top-ranked Georgia on Saturday afternoon, and for so many different reasons.

The Bulldogs had already locked up the SEC East and a trip to Atlanta to face LSU in the SEC Championship Game.

They were facing a Kentucky team that was limping to the finish line in 2022 and coming off an embarrassing home loss to a Vanderbilt program that hadn’t won an SEC game since 2019.

They were almost to the regular-season finish line themselves, with a below-average rival in Georgia Tech coming to Athens next Saturday for some likely punishment.

And they were on the road, in mid-November, which always creates some uncertainty and anxiety (just ask Florida and Billy Napier).

Throw in having everything on the line when it came to national championship and repeat championship aspirations, and it wasn’t an easy dynamic that Kirby Smart’s team was dealing with amid Big Blue Nation. Forget the Bulldogs being favored by over 3 touchdowns. This wasn’t an easy spot, and it showed plenty early.

Georgia came out of it all alive, methodically pounding out a 16-6 victory. It came out of it 11-0 overall and finished off a perfect 8-0 SEC slate.

The Bulldogs bolted out of the Bluegrass State with everything in front of them, beginning with that rivalry game against the Yellow Jackets next Saturday. But it was ugly at the beginning. Will Levis and the Wildcats got off the canvas after the Vandy loss on the same field 7 days earlier and outgained the Bulldogs in the 1st quarter, and even though Georgia actually led 3-0 after the 1st 15 minutes, it felt like unranked Kentucky (6-5, 3-5 SEC) was in it for the long haul on Saturday.

Levis and the Wildcats dominated the time of possession for most of the 1st half, putting the Bulldogs on their heels with 2 long drives into Georgia territory. But they failed to cash in either time and, against the best team in the country, those 2 missed opportunities proved to be fatal.

First, it was an 11-play, 64-yard march from its own 4-yard line that fizzled at the Georgia 31 when Chris Rodriguez lost a yard on 4th-and-1. Georgia said thank you very much after denying Kentucky that much-needed early momentum and drove for a field goal and that early 3-0 lead.

Then Kentucky did it to itself again, and more specifically Levis did it to his own team. The Wildcats embarked on another long drive, going 13 plays for 57 yards this time, and they had a 1st down at the Bulldogs’ 16. But then there was a false-start penalty, a couple of short Rodriguez runs and then the crusher, as Levis was picked off by Kelee Ringo in the shadows of the goal line. Ringo returned it 45 yards to about midfield, and Georgia turned that into another short Jack Podlesny field goal.

Yes, it was only 6-0 and, yes, the Bulldogs were still flirting with disaster. But it felt like the Wildcats had missed their chance to really make Georgia sweat on a frigid November Saturday in Lexington.

After that ferocious Bulldogs defense finally figured out Levis and the Wildcats offense, forcing a 3-and-out, Stetson Bennett went back to work with a 2-minute drill that ended in yet another Podlesny field goal on the final play of the half.

Yes, it was only 9-0 at halftime, but it felt like one of those baseball games where one team is getting a lot of runners on base but failing to score, and the other team is scoring runs on the few opportunities it does get.

Another translation for you, in football terms: Georgia had the ball exactly 3 times in the entire 1st half, and it scored on all 3 possessions. It didn’t score any touchdowns, mind you, and Smart bemoaned that fact to Jenny Dell in the halftime interview on CBS.

But it did score on every possession it had. The Bulldogs did move the ball. And they ended up outgaining the Wildcats, 161-119, in the 1st half despite Kentucky moving the ball up and down the field on its first 2 possessions.

It felt like a 9-0 halftime lead, with the proverbial dam about to burst.

It didn’t right away though.

Bennett threw a terrible interception on the 1st possession of the 2nd half, giving the Wildcats a shred of life. But a Georgia defense that hasn’t allowed more than 22 points in any game this season said no to Kentucky again, forcing another 3-and-out and moving the Wildcats offense back 6 yards while doing it.

Then Kendall Milton and Kenny McIntosh went to work.

The running back duo did all of the heavy lifting in a touchdown drive that finally gave the Bulldogs their long-awaited cushion. Milton ran for 8, 13 and 7 yards on the first 3 plays of the drive, then handed the baton to McIntosh, who ran for 8 yards and 1 yard before his 9-yard TD burst finished off the 58-yard drive.

McIntosh had his 1st career 100-yard game and suddenly it was 16-0. But it honestly felt more like 66-0 with the way the Bulldogs defense was playing (again), and Smart had that elusive touchdown he was yearning for at halftime.

But then Smart had a little something to worry about. It seemed over in Lexington, but it wasn’t quite over.

Mark Stoops’ team started to show some fight. Rather than kick another short field goal, Smart decided to go for it on 4th down at the Wildcats’ 1-yard line. But Milton was stopped for no gain, and then Kentucky did the unthinkable — it drove 99 yards against arguably the best defense in the country.

Levis capped the stunning, 9-play drive by finding Barion Brown for an 8-yard touchdown on 4th-and-2. It was Kentucky’s 1st 99-yard drive since 2015, and it suddenly gave the Wildcats a shot when the deal seemed to be sealed. Levis’ 2-point conversion pass that would’ve made it a 1-score game failed, but it was 16-6 with still a little under 10 minutes left.

Plenty of time.

And then, after a Georgia punt, Levis found Brown on a 47-yard pass down the middle to the Bulldogs’ 43.

Things were really getting interesting now.

Kroger Field had some juice. Big-time juice.

Then disaster struck for Kentucky when Matt Ruffolo missed a 38-yard field goal with 4:17 left after the snap short-hopped the holder. The kick was destined to fail. It would’ve gotten the Wildcats within 7 points, and the pressure on Georgia would’ve mounted.

But instead, the Bulldogs were finally in the clear.

And this very tricky — and very chilly — Saturday in Lexington was finally in the rear-view mirror.

Georgia was heading home to play Georgia Tech, still perfect and still pointed toward a real shot at a repeat national championship.