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No. 11 Kentucky Travels to No. 1 Georgia to Decide the Top Position in the SEC East

Can the Wildcats win on the road at Georgia for the first time since November of 2009?

There will be a big battle of undefeated SEC East teams this Saturday, as the 6-0 Wildcats face the 6-0 Bulldogs.

Georgia comes into the contest fresh from a 34-10 win on the road against Auburn that propelled them to the No. 1 spot in the country after former No. 1 Alabama’s shocking 41-38 loss to Texas A&M.

Georgia won big over Auburn, 34-10, once again due to its stout defense, consistent running game, and a few timely deep completions by quarterback Stetson Bennett.

Stetson Bennett provided consistent play for the Bulldogs while JT Daniels could not play

Stetson Bennett provided consistent play for the Bulldogs while JT Daniels could not play

It remains up in the air when JT Daniels will resume quarterback duties for the Bulldogs. Although Daniels has been out with a nagging lat injury the last few weeks, his absence has not been a factor.

Last week against Auburn, Bennett completed 14 of 21 passes for 231 yards and two touchdowns, and completed two bombs deep down the field to freshman slot receiver Ladd McConkey. Deep ball accuracy has always been the question for Bennett, but he proved last week he’s more than capable of taking shots down the field and completing them.

Both deep completions came on play-action passes, which were a big reason McConkey was so open. Defenses are forced to respect the Georgia rushing attack because of their constant success on the ground. The Bulldogs are averaging 197 rushing yards a game, 4.7 yards a carry.

Because of the ground attack, defenses have to put seven or eight defenders in the box if they want any chance of containing Georgia running backs like Zamir White or James Cook. That leaves Georgia’s receivers with one-on-one opportunities against corners on the outside, and they took full advantage of that against Auburn.

The defense provided a high-level performance once again, holding the Tigers to just 46 rushing yards on 29 attempts, 1.6 yards per carry. Auburn quarterback Bo Nix had a little bit more success, throwing for 217 yards.

The Tigers’ 10 points was the second most Georgia has given up all season (South Carolina scored 13 points). Their defense is now allowing an average of 5.5 points a game.

The Wildcats will look to surpass what little opposing offenses have been able to muster against Georgia and keep up their recent offensive success.

Kentucky put up 42 points on the LSU Tigers last week in a 42-21 victory at home. The Wildcats ran all over the Tigers, rushing for a total of 330 yards. They were constantly gashing the LSU front for big runs, led by the nation’s No. 5 leading rusher, Chris Rodriguez Jr.

He ran for 147 yards and a touchdown on 16 attempts, an average of 9.2 yards per carry. Rodriguez gained a total of 768 rushing yards and five touchdowns so far in 2021. There’s another Wildcats runner for Georgia to prepare for as well.

Kavosiey Smoke was just as good as Rodriguez, running for 104 yards on 12 attempts, an average of 8.7 yards per carry. On the evening, Kentucky’s team rushing average ended up being 7.3 yards per carry, including three rushing scores against the Tigers.

Quarterback Will Levis also contributed to the run game, running for 75 yards and two touchdowns.

Kentucky plays a very similar brand of football as Georgia, relying heavily on their defense and run game. The pass game is a supplement to the run, as is for Georgia, and Levis has been a strength behind center.

It’s been a few years since the Wildcats had someone reliable as a quarterback. Levis is a former Penn State transfer who is averaging 22 passing attempts a game, for 189 yards per contest.

Again, these numbers are very similar to how Georgia likes to use the passing attack, especially with Stetson Bennett leading the Bulldogs’ offense. Both teams would much rather keep the ball on the ground and in the hands of their running backs, and try to catch defenses off guard with the pass, rather than airing it out.

Kentucky’s defense has been its strength all year. It’s by all looks a top ten defense in the country. Now, in comparison to Georgia, who is only giving up 5.5 points a game, this may seem like a lot. However, for reference, the second-best defense in points allowed is Clemson, who gives up 12.2 points a game. If you take out Georgia, who’s just a pure anomaly, Kentucky is right there at the top.

The Wildcats are allowing 17.5 points a game. Beyond points per game allowed, the defense allowed just 111.3 yards per game on the ground, and 193.7 yards via the pass. Perhaps the best defender for Kentucky would be linebacker DeAndre Square. He’s racked up 45 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and two sacks.

Kentucky linebacker DeAndre Square sacked LSU quarterback Max Johnson and forced a fumble during last Saturday's contest

Kentucky linebacker DeAndre Square sacked LSU quarterback Max Johnson and forced a fumble during last Saturday's contest

The key for the Wildcats will be to force Bennett and the Bulldogs’ offense into third and long situations. When Georgia’s offense is at its best, they’re running it for four yards a carry and giving Bennett very manageable opportunities to pick up the first down.

If the Wildcats can contain the run and force Bennett to beat them through the air, this will be a close game. However, if the Bulldogs can continue their success on the ground, Kentucky could suffer the same fate Arkansas and Auburn went through the last two weeks and be out of this game by halftime.

Offensively, the Wildcats will need to mix it up. It’s hard enough to beat Georgia’s defense, but if your offense gets too predictable, it will make things that much harder.

Kentucky may have to go a little off script from their traditional offensive play calling. The Wildcats cannot expect to have the same rushing success as they did against LSU and other opponents thus far. Kentucky will have to put the ball in the hands of Levis and trust him to stretch the field first. If he can, Georgia will be forced to respect that which would then lead to better opportunities rushing thereafter.

Prediction

If you zoom out, it may seem ridiculous that an undefeated team, who’s second in the SEC East, could be a 23-point underdog to any opponent. In almost any other year, it would be ridiculous. However, that’s where the Wildcats find themselves. Since week one against Clemson, Georgia’s closest game was the 24-point victory last week against Auburn.

The Wildcats will fare slightly better than Auburn and Arkansas, but not by much. They may contain the Georgia running game to start, but eventually the Bulldogs’ athletes will be too much for them to handle, and the Bulldogs break it open in the second half.

The Wildcats have not had to play from behind all season, but that will be the case during this game. Once the Wildcats have no choice but to rely on the passing attack, it will be too late for Levis and the Kentucky offense to overcome.

Kentucky keeps it close in the first half, but Georgia pulls away late.

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Georgia 30 Kentucky 13

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