UPDATE: You may find my responses to Kyle's questions at this link.
T. Kyle King at Dawg Sports, the very best Georgia Bulldog blog I know of and a member of the SB Nation family, kindly agreed to do a question and answer swap with us this year for the Georgia at Kentucky football game. Last year, somehow, we managed to miss out on this particular opportunity when Kentucky went down to Athens, so it's great to get back on track.
Both Georgia and Kentucky enter this game badly banged up from injury, but they also have the dubious distinction of suffering recent beat-downs at the hands of the Florida Gators -- UK two weekends ago in Gainesville and Georgia last weekend in Jacksonville at the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. Kentucky has had two weeks and one victory to recover its footing, while Georgia comes into Commonwealth Stadium with a freshly bruised psyche.
I will link Kyle's post containing my answers to his questions as soon as it goes up. In the meantime, enjoy his responses to my questions below, as well as this recipe for Bourbon Punch. As usual, my questions are in boldface. Your comments, as always, are welcome and encouraged.
This year's trip to Jacksonville didn't work out as well for the Bulldogs as last year. What effect do you think that will have on Georgia going into Commonwealth Stadium?
My concern, obviously, is that the team still will be “hung over” from the trip to the Sunshine State. The Red and Black came into this season with lofty goals, all of which remained within reach a week ago and none of which are within reach now. That can’t help but affect the psyche of the team. How quickly they get over that loss and refocus on the task at hand is the crucial question of this game.
In this respect, I believe Georgia’s loss in the Bluegrass State two years ago will be helpful from a motivational standpoint. There’s a famous picture of a battered and bewildered Matthew Stafford in the locker room after that game. He and his teammates know the dangers of heading into Lexington with anything less than their best effort.
Kentucky has had an anemic offense this year, but a reasonably solid defense. Georgia has been explosive at times, and plodding at times, offensively. Which Georgia team will show up on offense against Kentucky, and why?
I greet the prospect of answering this question with more than a little trepidation. Between the long trip home from Jacksonville, the lingering aftereffects of that loss, and the early kickoff time, I fear that the Bulldogs will be slow to awaken.
Whenever I start to fret that this will be the case, though, I remind myself that Mark Richt has not gone 28-4 on opponents’ home fields by accident. Stacy Searels hasn’t put himself into the running for the Frank Broyles Award without being able to motivate a beleaguered offensive line into buying time for the quarterback who can be deadly accurate when given a pocket and an extra second to set his feet. If this team has the heart to match its talent, you’ll see an efficient, if not invincible, offense in Lexington.
Kentucky is using a new dual-threat quarterback in Randall Cobb and possibly more of a read-option offense with spread-like sets. Do you think Georgia will have any difficulty dealing with that in light of their recent loss to the Gators.
Not really. The spread per se hasn’t given the Bulldogs particular trouble since the 17th minute of the 2006 Sugar Bowl. The game in Jacksonville got out of hand for a variety of factors, none of which were related specifically to the Gators’ offensive scheme.
Tim Tebow remains a special player. Ill-time penalties and (in one instance) an erroneous officiating call sustained Gator drives that otherwise would have been halted. Turnovers and questionable decisions in the kicking game gave Florida short fields from which to work. Finally, missed field goals and a dropped touchdown pass took the wind out of the Bulldogs’ sails. That’s what allowed a close contest to spin out of control in the second half. As long as that parade of horribles isn’t replicated in Commonwealth Stadium, Kentucky’s specific offensive scheme will not itself be the source of other than ordinary trouble.
Georgia has suffered more injuries this year than any team I can remember. How much of an impact have these injuries had on Georgia's season, and will they matter against Kentucky?
I can only think of one team that has suffered as many critical injuries as the 2008 Georgia Bulldogs, and that’s the 2008 Kentucky Wildcats. Both teams have been a little bit snake-bitten this autumn, and both of us have losses to Florida that were more lopsided on the scoreboard than on the field to show for it.
The impact of the injuries on the Bulldogs’ season has been enormous. Left tackles are the second-highest-paid players in the National Football League because they protect the blind sides of the highest-paid players in the N.F.L. The Red and Black have lost two starting left tackles this season, as well as standouts among the defensive front seven.
The impact of those injuries was apparent against Alabama, which exploited its advantages in the trenches. The Wildcats will be able to do that to some extent---there’s no question Kentucky will register more than a couple of sacks on Saturday---but the young Georgia line has matured well enough to hold off any team ranked outside the top five nationally.
In the games that Georgia has struggled in this year, Knowshon Moreno has been held to 101 yards or less. How are teams successfully holding down one of (if not the most) dangerous back in the SEC?
Once again, it all goes back to the injuries along the routinely-reshuffled offensive line. There has to be a hole for the running back to hit or even the best ball carrier in the history of the game isn’t going anywhere.
In order to keep opposing teams from stacking the box and stuffing the run, the Bulldogs are doing two things, both of which are obvious. First of all, they are trying to get A.J. Green, Mohamed Massaquoi, and, increasingly, the tight ends involved to force the defense to back up and defend against the pass. Secondly, Georgia has made good use of the toss sweep to get Knowshon Rockwell Moreno in space and give him some running room.
Teams that can defend sideline to sideline and man up on the Georgia receivers can bottle up Moreno before he gets the chance to get going. Those that can’t spend large amounts of their afternoons looking at the back of his silver britches.
What is the single most important thing Georgia must do or avoid doing to win on Saturday?
After a game in which so much went wrong, it’s hard to identify any one thing that has to go right; it’s tempting to clench my teeth and offer outraged answers like, “Split the uprights on chip shot field goals and catch balls that hit ‘em in the hands, for starters!”
However, the actual answer is to avoid turnovers. The Bulldogs can’t afford to give Kentucky any easy opportunities to score (as they did against Florida), nor can they afford to squander chances in the red zone (as they did against Tennessee). If Georgia can protect the football, everything else will fall into place.
Predict the score, and justify your prediction.
I’m not going to swear to you that this will be my official score prediction but something along the lines of 26 or 27 points for Georgia and 14 or 17 points for Kentucky wouldn’t surprise me. I think we’re looking at a game like Georgia’s games against Vanderbilt and Tennessee, in which the Bulldogs never trail but never really seem to put the game absolutely out of reach, either. I look for the offense to move the ball effectively between the 20s but settle for a few too many field goals and let the Wildcats hang around through three and a half quarters. It will be a relatively close game, if not truly a good one.
Thanks again to Kyle for his typically insightful answers to my questions. Be sure to visit Dawg Sports regularly for updates from the Georgia side as we prepare for the big game tomorrow.