By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky got about everything it could out of its defense at No. 10 Georgia Saturday, but the lack of any UK offense and two costly mistakes set up the Bulldogs for a 21-0 win.
A 15-yard punt by Max Duffy, a midseason All-American who leads the nation in punting, shanked a 15-yard punt in the third quarter and an on the next ply D’Andre Swift went 39 yards for the score.
“D’Andre Swift is an impressive player. Just gave him a congratulations after the game and wished him goodbye. He needs to go to the NFL. He is an elite player,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said.
Quarterback Lynn Bowden fumbled on UK’s next series to set up a 31-yard Georgia scoring drive to make it 14-0 and basically put the game out of reach after the UK defense had shut out an SEC opponent in the first half for the first time in eight years.
Kentucky had just 177 total yards and only 17 yards passing — all in the final minutes. Bowden gained 99 yards on 17 carries but was 2-for-15 passing and no team can win in the SEC without at least the threat of a passing game.
Georgia managed only 270 yards, and that included 92 on a scoring drive in the fourth quarter that accounted for the final score. The Bulldogs threw for only 35 yards in the rain but the two key mistakes set up short scores and when UK had a chance to do the same thing, it couldn’t convert.
UK Radio Network sideline reporter Dick Gabriel told Kentucky coach Mark Stoops at halftime that the Cats had been a “real annoyance” to Georgia, a remark Stoops clearly did not like because he said, “I am not interested in being an annoyance. I am interested in beating them.”
Kentucky, a 25-point underdog, couldn’t do that because of its limitations on offense with Sawyer Smith apparently still not ready physically — one ESPN announcer mentioned casually that Smith had a “fractured wrist” even though Stoops had never indicated that officially. Bowden’s effort was superb again — he did have a touchdown pass dropped by Chris Rodriguez that would have cut the lead to 14-7 — but Georgia’s defense just would not give him the running lanes that Arkansas did a week earlier.
“A loss is a loss. But I’ll say this: Lynn Bowden is a freaking WARRIOR man. What is he 5’10, 185 lbs, taking snaps in the pocket, continually running the ball right into a Georgia front seven that knows he’s running it. Bowden is one… TOUGH… dude,” FoxSports Radio’s Aaron Torres posted on Twitter and he was absolutely right.
Still, as tough as Bowden is, you just can’t win without being able to complete a pass. Kentucky had ZERO MARGIN for error and Duffy’s shank (and give Duffy credit after the game for saying he just missed the kick and not blaming the weather) and Swift’s TD run eliminated that margin.
“The weather made it tough on both sides,” Stoops said on the UK Radio Network after the game. “Guys really played hard. We were trying to be creative and put our guys in situation to win.
“Georgia is tough, big and strong up front. They (Georgia) had a game under their belt to see Lynn and change things up (defensively). They have taking away some inside power run game with guys up front who make it hard on any quarterback.”
Yes the Bulldogs did as one would have expected. Now Kentucky is 3-4 with five games left starting with Saturday night against Missouri. The good news is that Missouri lost at Vanderbilt. The bad news is that UK also still has to play at Vanderbilt.
But if the Cats can play the type of defense against Missouri that they did against Georgia and either generate more offense with Bowden or get Smith back to generate a passing attack, then a win would even UK’s record at 4-4 with four more games left it should have a chance to win.
“Our margin for error was small. It was 0-0 at half and we had some opportunities early,” Stoops said. “We got a penalty and some things that put us back and we cannot do that. We still had a chance to cut it to 14-7 and just dropped it. It just came down to several plays that really made a difference.”