First things first: This is NOT a layup for Georgia. The Bulldogs showed against LSU that their offense can get punched in the mouth, their running game can be shut down, and their quarterback can be rattled on the road. Watching the Cocktail Party, Georgia did bounce back, but it was hard to ignore the thought that if Florida had a legitimately good quarterback, the nature of that game would have been very different.
By Matt Zemek
This UGA team is not as good as the 2017 edition. Being a target is part of it. Jake Fromm not improving from 2017 is part of it. The offensive line being less imposing is part of it.
That can and should be noted. Kentucky also has a terrific defense, will be playing at home in the biggest game of the Mark Stoops era, and has a supremely rare chance to win the SEC East championship, advance to Atlanta, and wrap up a New Year’s Six bowl bid, all in one afternoon. This is not a slam-dunk for Georgia. The Bulldogs can lose if they are not careful.
But they won’t lose.
The overwhelming obstacle for Kentucky in this de facto SEC East championship game is its offense. The Wildcats have become to college football what Wisconsin basketball was under Bo Ryan circa 2010: a team which regularly got involved in ugly, slow-paced defensive struggles. Kentucky is a rock-fight master, winning one slog after another without scoring much more than 15 points.
Kentucky didn’t run a live-ball play from Texas A&M territory throughout 60 regulation minutes against the Aggies a few weeks ago. Overtime marked the first such snap, and that was only because it was mandated by rule at the 25-yard line. Kentucky barely escaped Vanderbilt and needed its defense to come up with big plays to prevent the Commodores from taking a lead midway through the fourth quarter. Scoring 24 points would rate as an offensive explosion for the Cats. That is what they are on offense, especially in the passing game, where Terry Wilson regularly struggles to find a rhythm. He didn’t find a rhythm against Missouri, not even on the final drive. He completed a couple of passes but then threw a pass out of the end zone with no time left. He got a mulligan thanks to a questionable pass interference call on Missouri and then threw a two-yard touchdown pass to win the game on the final untimed down. Kentucky scored just one offensive touchdown against Missouri — the other came on a punt return. Kentucky similarly scored just one offensive touchdown against Texas A&M and two against Vandy.
The cold, hard reality of this game for Kentucky is that even if its defense plays well, the Cats need special plays — lots of them — to stay even with Georgia. UK will need another kick return of at least 60 yards. It will need some gifts from Jake Fromm — not just interceptions, but picks which are returned long distances or deny UGA crucial points in the red zone. Big Blue will need defensive penalties to sustain drives to the point that it can score against Kirby Smart’s defense. Georgia will take away Benny Snell and dare Wilson to beat the Dawgs in the passing game. Nothing Wilson has done this season shows he is likely to win that battle against Georgia’s secondary.
Kentucky has very consistently established its identity in 2018. Kentucky will score few points but give up even fewer points. This is not a team which is likely to reinvent itself. It is not a team which is likely to win games played in the 30s. It is not likely to pass for 350 yards or use a hurry-up offense. This is the team which knows how to win one kind of game — the rock fight. That’s the only way UK can win.
Georgia can win a rock fight if need be, but the Dawgs can win a shootout. UGA can win with the downfield pass. They say that styles make fights, but Kentucky has only one style. Georgia can play and win within different frameworks. This makes the margins extremely small for Kentucky and much larger for Georgia, even though this game is in Lexington. Kentucky needs highly improbable plays — amounting to a Georgia implosion — to realize its highly improbable dream of an SEC East title and a trip to Atlanta, the first of its kind. Unless Georgia encounters its worst-case scenario, with insane special-teams plays by Kentucky and a total clunker from Jake Fromm, Georgia should be able to make Big Blue Nation remember that basketball season is just around the corner.