Kentucky football: 5 things UK needs to do to upset No. 1 Georgia
Kentucky football finds itself like the dog that finally caught the car. The Wildcats have chased after big-time status in the SEC for years and years. And now, they’ve got their shot at it. So what do you do with it? On the one hand, Georgia is the best team in the nation, and it has the best defense in recent memory. On the other, Kentucky has been a blessed combination of timely and skilled, and it is probably the best team Georgia has yet faced. But let’s talk about Saturday. Here are 5 things Kentucky needs to do to spring the upset over No. 1 Georgia, and (gulp) probably claim the SEC East.
1. Do better in the turnover battle
Four games into the season, UK was 4-0 but also -9 in turnover margin, the worst in the nation. The good news is that Kentucky has broken even and gone +1 in its last 2 SEC games, wins over Florida and LSU. The bad news is -8 still places UK tied for 127th in the nation. Georgia is at +3 and has forced 10 turnovers, 2nd most in the SEC. Meanwhile, part of Kentucky’s problem is that despite having a legitimately strong defense, it has forced only 4 turnovers in 6 games, the fewest in the SEC. The Wildcats need to not only avoid giving the ball away; they could probably stand to force a couple of Georgia turnovers.
2. Continue preventing the big play
On the other hand, this is a key to bodes well for Kentucky. Part of the success of UK’s defense has been its ability to not give up the big play. Kentucky has allowed just 11 20-plus-yard plays, which is the best in the nation. (Georgia has allowed 14 such plays, which is 6th best in the nation.) But despite its success, Georgia doesn’t tend to excel on big plays, either. The UGA offense has 28 20-plus-yard plays on the season, which is 10th in the SEC and 1 fewer than Kentucky’s offense. With Stetson Bennett likely at QB, Georgia doesn’t seem particularly likely to rain big offensive plays on UK’s defense, which is how the Wildcats are 3rd in the SEC in total defense.
3. Find some way to run on Georgia
It’s not that Georgia has been good against the run, it’s that it has been superhuman. Allowing 66.5 rushing yards per game and 2.2 yards per carry, the Bulldogs have absolutely refused to allow anyone to run against them. Georgia has allowed 1 20-plus-yard run in 6 games and no 30-plus-yard runs. Particularly big for Kentucky would be running well on early downs, and the Wildcats have been sharp there. Chris Rodriguez Jr. is averaging 6.2 yards per carry on 1st down and 7.2 yards per carry on 2nd. Kavosiey Smoke is at 4.9 yards per carry on 1st down and 7.7 yards per carry on 2nd. QB Will Levis is averaging 7.9 yards per carry on 1st down. Now, it’s unrealistic to expect to run THAT well against Georgia. But even turning in 3- to 5-yard gains on 1st and 2nd downs would keep Kentucky’s offense in position to run the clock and control the game.
4. Win special teams
Georgia is, quietly, absolutely devastating on special teams. The Bulldogs allow the fewest kick and punt return yards in the conference, they’re close to the top in punting, they’re solid in the return game and they can block kicks. Perhaps the single biggest play in Kentucky’s upset of Florida was the blocked field goal that it returned for a touchdown, pulling UK into the lead. The Wildcats could certainly stand a surprising bounce or 2 in the kicking game on Saturday.
5. Be themselves and be in the moment
Kentucky played Georgia in a de facto SEC East championship back in 2018. That UK squad was overwhelmed in that game from the beginning, and it had to play from behind for the entire game. Three years later, Kentucky should be more used to the notion of competing with the best of the SEC. The Wildcats aren’t the flashiest team in the SEC by a long shot. Their game is kind of like Iowa’s in the Big Ten. They’ll stop you, they’ll grind out some points and they’ll do well playing from ahead. Kentucky doesn’t need to turn into Georgia or try to imitate some other style of play. It will need its own A game and probably for Georgia to play it’s B- or so game for this one to be competitive. But stranger things have happened, and if Kentucky stays in its lane, the Wildcats might just have shot to shock the world.