By KEITH TAYLOR, Kentucky Today
LEXINGTON — It’s been nearly a decade since Kentucky has beaten Georgia and the task won’t be an easy one when the two teams meet Saturday in Athens.
The Wildcats (3-3, 1-3) ended a three-game losing streak with a 24-20 triumph over Arkansas last week, while the Bulldogs dropped a surprising 20-17 loss to South Carolina in double overtime, dropping the Bulldogs seven spots to No. 10 in the latest Associated Press Top 25 poll.
Kentucky’s last win over Georgia came in 2010 when the Wildcats escaped with a 34-27 victory in Athens. A year ago, Georgia defeated Kentucky 34-17 last year at Kroger Field in a contest that determined the Southeastern Conference East winner. Although rare, the Wildcats have been known to defeat the Bulldogs on their own turf, including a 33-0 shutout in 1977.
Mark Stoops expects the Bulldogs to be fired up following the loss to the Gamecocks and said are still a force to be reckoned with on both sides of the ball.
“Georgia is just what they are, a Top 5 team,” the Kentucky coach said. “I know they took a tough loss last week. You hear me say it all the time, tell me one team that is going to play their best 12 weeks in a row. Doesn’t happen. Some of the elite teams overcome it, Georgia normally does. When they don’t play their best, they can still win with the talent that they have. Didn’t happen for them last week. No doubt in my mind how they’ll respond, the way they’re coached, what Kirby (Smart) does, their whole staff.
“Their team has a lot of pride. They’ve won a lot of games. They’re going to come back stronger than ever this week. We have to make sure we match that, we continue to improve, play our very best. We need to play our best football game of the year.”
Smart expects Georgia to respond and “there’s no time sitting back feeling sorry for yourself because you’ve got good teams each and every week.”
“This is a solid football team that was playing for the (SEC) East last year,” he said. “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. I know our guys will be looking forward to it, as I am. … the focus for us better be on Kentucky, because you can’t let South Carolina beat you twice.”
Unlike Kentucky, Georgia has enjoyed consistency in the pocket with an offense that centers around veteran quarterback Jake Fromm.
“Jake, really a great player,” Stoops said. “I was about to say one of a kind in college football in that you don’t see that much of that style where he’s so accurate and such a good player. They’ll put a lot of pressure on you. Jake is very, very accurate. I know they didn’t play to their standards a week ago. They’ll get that fixed in short order because he’s a really good football player.”
Kentucky hasn’t been as fortunate, but receiver-turned-quarterback Lynn Bowden helped lead the Wildcats to victory last week and was listed at first-string with teammate Sawyer Smith earlier this week. Although it’s not known who will start, Smart said Bowden’s athleticism poses an issue for his squad.
“He’s extremely athletic (and) I tell you what, the guy does a phenomenal job,” he said. “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. They’ve got a major matchup factor on the outside in a really big wideout. They’ve got tight ends that run pop passes when you play certain coverages. They just do a really good job. He’s a receiver, a great athlete, a really good athlete playing quarterback which creates a new dynamic for us.”
Stoops said the Georgia Bulldogs resemble past teams, especially in the backfield.
“Their running backs, I mean, they’re as good as anybody I’ve seen,” he said “They go four deep with some guys that can play. They’re typical Georgia.”
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Gametracker: Kentucky at Georgia, 6 p.m., Saturday. TV/Radio: ESPN, UK Radio Network.
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @keithtaylor21.