By LARRY VAUGHT
Georgia went into last week’s home game with South Carolina regarded as one of the top teams not only in the Southeastern Conference but also in the nation. Many felt the Bulldogs, not Alabama or Clemson, could be the nation’s best team.
Then Georgia lost to the Gamecocks, a team that seemed on the verge of collapse a few weeks ago before beating Kentucky.
Now Georgia will host Kentucky Saturday night and sort of face the same dilemma Kentucky did when it blew an 11-point lead in the fourth quarter and lost to Florida. The Cats lost their next two games before finally beating Arkansas last week.
Now Georgia coach Kirby Smart wants to make sure one loss doesn’t turn into two — something Las Vegas oddsmakers don’t see happening since Georgia is a 25-point favorite.
“What’s more important is that our team gets ready for Kentucky and gets ready to go play than talking about the rest of the year, because we gotta worry about Kentucky,” Smart said Monday when asked how his team would refocus this week.
“No. 1, you can’t turn the ball over. We gotta correct those mistakes, and our guys gotta focus on Kentucky. The most important thing for us is Kentucky. And that’s us getting better. And a lot of it has to do with us inherently looking at ourselves and saying, okay, what can I improve upon, but a lot of the things that we can improve upon are based on what Kentucky does, offensively, defensively and special teams, and that’s where our focus will be.
“This is a solid football team that was playing for the east last year. They’ve had some injuries that have affected them and they’ve done a tremendous job of running the ball, finding ways to move the ball with different people doing it, and they’ve got a big front on defense. They had the same thing last year and they’ve got a lot of guys back.”
What Kentucky doesn’t have back, though, is running back Benny Snell, linebacker Josh Allen, five secondary starters and even quarterback Terry Wilson, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in week two.
The Cats turned to receiver Lynn Bowden at quarterback last week in the win over Arkansas and he was sensational. But can he do it again if coach Mark Stoops goes with him?
“He’s extremely athletic. I tell you what, the guy does a phenomenal job. I think their staff does a great job of using his skill set. And you think when he’s back there he’s not going to throw it, but it becomes harder to defend him because you let the pass creep out of your mind and then he hits two or three big passes,” Smart said.
“They’ve got a major matchup factor on the outside in a really big wideout (Ahmad Wagner). They’ve got tight ends that run pop passes when you play certain coverages. They just do a really good job. And he’s hard to tackle.
“And they’ve been one of the best rushing teams in our league for a while because of Benny Snell, and now they’re finding other ways to use it with Lynn.”
Smart said Bowden’s speed and elusiveness at quarterback creates a “different type” of game and makes defending third down much more difficult with Bowden being able to throw or run.
“He creates a difficult defending mechanism,” Smart said.
Kentucky coach Mark Stoops has talked often about trying to defend an athletic quarterback. Smart was preaching the same sermon Monday and making it clear he assumes Bowden will be back at quarterback Saturday night for UK.
“They add an extra hat to the box. So every single play where you say, man, you all got a good rush defense or, man, you stopped this guy, this guy can take off running at any time he wants on a drop-back pass and the six or seven guys in the box might not have a chance to tackle him, because he’s extremely athletic,” Smart said. “He’s a receiver, a great athlete, a really good athlete playing quarterback which creates a new dynamic for us.”