Bulldogs looks to bounce back at home against SEC East rival Wildcats
Despite generating 468 yards of total offense, heavily-favored Georgia (5-1, 3-1 SEC) had very little go its way in last week’s heartbreaking 20-17 double-overtime loss to the visiting South Carolina Gamecocks. The typically efficient and poised Jake Fromm committed four turnovers (3 interceptions, 1 fumble) in the loss. And the always reliable Rodrigo Blankenship failed to connect on two of his three field goal attempts, including a 42-yarder in the second overtime that would have extended the game. That ultimately brought an end to a 15-game SEC East win-streak for the Bulldogs and severely damaged their playoff hopes in the process. Kirby Smart’s Dawgs will now look to get back on track with yet another upset-minded SEC East foe coming to town on Saturday night.
Mark Stoop’s Wildcats (3-3, 1-3) are the division rival charged with the unenviable task of going on the road to face the salty Dawgs. The silver lining is that the ‘Cats will make the trip to Athens with a little momentum behind them after snapping a three-game losing streak last week, courtesy of a 24-20 home win against Arkansas. Converted wide receiver Lynn Bowden Jr. earned SEC Offensive Player of the Week honors in his first collegiate start at quarterback to spearhead the much-needed victory over the Hogs. But the challenge will be far greater this week against the highly motivated Bulldogs.
Georgia has won nine consecutive games against Kentucky and leads the all-time series 58-12-2.
Kentucky at Georgia
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 19 at 6 p.m. ET
Spread: Georgia -25
When Kentucky Has the Ball
Lynn Bowden Jr. racked up 274 yards of total offense and three touchdowns from the quarterback position in last week’s win against Arkansas. And regardless of where Bowden lines up against the Bulldogs on Saturday night, you can expect the SEC leader in all-purpose yards (896) to be the centerpiece of Kentucky’s offense.
The problem is that also makes the do-it-all athlete the focal point of a potent Georgia defense. A defense that allows just 73.3 rushing yards per game (1st in the SEC, 6th in the FBS) and has yet to surrender a rushing touchdown all season. A defense well-equipped to handle Bowden’s dynamic running ability, along with those of Kentucky running backs Asim Rose (420 rushing yards, 2 TDs) and Kavosiey Smoke (328 rushing yards 3 TDs).
Bowden is capable of making a few plays with his arm to keep the Georgia defense honest. But his overall skills as a passer leave plenty to be desired, even against a Georgia secondary that has been somewhat vulnerable against the pass, allowing 208 yards per game (6th in the SEC, 57th in the FBS).
That could open the door for Sawyer Smith to make his way back into the gameplan for Kentucky at quarterback. Wrist and shoulder injuries kept Smith on the sidelines last week and seemed to factor heavily into terrible performances against South Carolina and Mississippi State. However, Smith was solid in matchups against Eastern Michigan and Florida prior to suffering those injuries. And if healthy, he probably gives the Kentucky offense its best opportunity for success through the air. Smith at quarterback also allows Bowden to spend time in his customary wide receiver role, where he leads the Wildcats in both receptions (30) and receiving yards (348).
It’s likely that Mark Stoops will opt to utilize both Bowden and Smith at quarterback at various times on Saturday night. That would provide the Wildcats with an opportunity to open up the playbook and challenge the Bulldogs with a wide variety of looks. But no matter who is taking the snaps, it will require a top-flight performance from the entire Kentucky offense to overcome an incredibly difficult matchup.
When Georgia Has the Ball
While Jake Fromm has done a tremendous job managing the Georgia offense over the last three seasons, it has become clear that a pass-heavy approach is not in the Bulldogs’ best interest. Georgia is 0-5 in games in which Fromm attempts 30 or more passes. That includes last week’s loss to South Carolina, a game in which Fromm attempted a career-high 51 passes and committed an unprecedented four turnovers.
That said, Fromm isn’t completely to blame. A talented, yet inexperienced, receiving corps played a significant role as well, and that has been the case all season for a Georgia passing attack that has failed to consistently hit on all cylinders. Fromm and Co. should bounce back with a much better effort this week. However, that is not guaranteed against a Kentucky pass defense that has allowed the fewest passing touchdowns (3) in the SEC so far this season.
The good news is that a lackluster Kentucky run defense has surrendered 14 touchdowns on the ground, the most in the SEC. The Wildcats also give up a generous 173 rushing yards per game (12th in the SEC, 82nd in the FBS). Which is why you can fully expect the Georgia offense to get back to doing what it does best this week â — running the football.
The Bulldogs rushed for 331 yards and three touchdowns against a Kentucky defense that was far better against the run last season. That bodes well for a Georgia offense that once again features one of the best rushing attacks in the nation, averaging 237 yards per game (1st in the SEC, 16th in the FBS). Elite running backs D’Andre Swift (573 rushing yards, 5 TDs) and Zamir “Zeus” White (242 rushing yards, 2 TDs) will do most of the heavy lifting on Saturday night.
It will be interesting to see how Kentucky’s offensive game plan unfolds in this matchup, particularly if the Wildcats decide to employ a two-quarterback strategy. Regardless, points are going to be very difficult to come by on the road against a very stingy Georgia defense.
Meanwhile, the Georgia offense will be poised to take last week’s frustrations out on Kentucky. The Wildcats should provide just enough resistance against the pass to keep the game from getting ridiculously out of hand on the scoreboard. But Georgia will still cruise to a decisive victory in front of the home crowd on the strength of its run game alone.
Prediction: Georgia 37, Kentucky 13
— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.