So the time has come for us to face another top SEC in the form of the 14th ranked Georgia Bulldogs. Despite their lofty ranking, the Dawgs limp into Commonwealth Stadium after a rather embarrassing tangle with the Florida Gators down in Jacksonville in which the Bulldogs were on the short end of a 49-10 score.
So now, two teams meet on Saturday, one Red and Black, one Blue and White, one canine, one feline, one and SEC perennial power, the other a perennial doormat that has transformed itself into a competitive program. The only thing these two teams really have in common of late are that they have both had the experience of passing through the Gator intestine.
So let's have a quick look at the general areas of both teams and how they compare:
The Georgia offensive line has been devastated by injury, and that is one very big reason that the Dawgs have not met the lofty national expectations most pundits had for them this year. Lost are two of Georgia's best linemen, and that has made Matthew Stafford more vulnerable to the sack and allowed opponents to stack the box against Knowshon Moreno, as Kyle King discussed in our Q&A just below.
Kentucky has also taken a hit on the offensive line, with Stuart Hines out indefinitely and Jess Beets lost for the season to an ACL, and UK is currently operating only two deep on many offensive line positions. On the good side, Kentucky has recently regained the services of Justin Jeffries.
There is really not that much difference between these two lines except for depth and experience -- Georgia has more of the former and less of the latter. Close call.
Advantage -- Even
Offensive skill positions
Let's see here: For skill players, Georgia has the SEC's third leading rusher (Knowshon Moreno), the SEC's leading passer (Matthew Stafford), the SEC's leading receiver (A.J. Green) and 8th leading receiver (Mohamed Massaquoi), the fourth leading scorer and second leading all-purpose yards player (Moreno).
As for Kentucky, well, we don't lead the SEC in any offensive category. We don't have a player in the top five in any offensive category. In short, UK's offense is just plain offensive. The closest we come, believe it or not, is Mike Hartline, who is 8th in the SEC in passing.
Advantage -- Georgia by a country mile
The Dawgs have one excellent defensive line. #2 against the SEC in run defense, Georgia knows how to keep opposing backs from getting downfield. Georgia has held opponents to 88 yards/game on average, and that includes the 185 yards they gave up against the Gators. Georgia also has the leading tackler in the SEC in linebacker Rennie Curran.
But in the passing game, the Dawgs are not nearly as strong. Georgia is 10th in the SEC in sacks, and has only five QB Hurries on the season.
Kentucky's defensive line, on the other hand, is only 8th in rushing defense, but it is #2 in quarterback sacks, #2 in tackles for loss, and has 10 QB hurries on the season. The Kentucky defensive line also returns Myron Pryor to the starting lineup, and that will be a big help, since he has been mostly unavailable for the last 4 weeks.
Advantage -- Kentucky by a whisker
Georgia struggles defending the pass, and is 11th in passing defense in the SEC. That is a bit of a surprise considering how athletic they are in the secondary. Georgia also finds itself in the bottom third of the league in pass interceptions, and has no player in the top ten in that statistic.
Kentucky, on the other hand, is fifth against the pass, fourth in interceptions and has two players with four or more picks -- Trevard Lindley and Marcus McClinton. Kentucky has been good against the pass most of the year, and has picked off a pass in each of its last five games. In fact, the 'Cats have at least one pick in every game this year except one.
Advantage -- Kentucky
Fumbles and turnover margin
Kentucky leads the SEC in fumbles forced with 12, and Georgia is 11th with 4. Kentucky also leads the league in fumbles recovered with 17, while Georgia is again near the bottom with only 3.
On the other side, Kentucky is 8th in the league in fumbles lost with 8, while Georgia is tied for second with only 4. In turnover margin, Kentucky is second in the league with +14 (+1.75/game) while Georgia is sixth with -1 (-0.11/game)
Despite having special teams faux pas that have lead to embarrassing short-field situations and were in no small part responsible for the ridiculous score in Gainesville, both Georgia and Kentucky have adequate special teams. Neither of them stands out in any particular statistic except Georgia in punt returns (2nd in the SEC) and Kentucky in kick returns (3rd in the SEC).
Advantage -- Even
Playing the game in Commonwealth Stadium is a clear advantage for the Kentucky Wildcats, and Georgia has dropped perhaps more than their fair share of games in the friendly confines of the Bluegrass. The last time the Dawgs trundled into town, the 'Cats sent them home bloody.
But Georgia is coming off an embarrassing loss to Florida, and they will be looking for something to take that out on. The downside of that loss as far as motivation is concerned is the fact that most of their pre-season goals went down the tubes with that debacle in Jacksonville.
Advantage -- Kentucky by a little
The bottom line is that Kentucky is going to have to play some of its best football of the season to get the W here. Georgia is far more talented offensively, and while Kentucky has a strong defense, they are not likely to be strong enough to keep the powerful Bulldog offense from getting in the end zone.
Conversely, Kentucky's offense has been very weak, and even though we are not facing the toughest defense in the SEC, Georgia is more than capable of keeping UK out of the end zone much of the game. It will take a special performance by our offense to keep this game competitive. Randall Cobb must do things much better than he did against Mississippi State, especially in the first half of that game.
Overall, if UK can play solid defense, force a few three-and-outs, and turn the Dawgs over some, they have a chance at this game. If UK allows Knowshon Moreno to run amok in the secondary, nothing can save them from defeat. I think Lindley can handle A.J. Green, but I'm not sure UK can handle the combination of Green, Massaquoi and Moreno.
Since I have called every game for Kentucky this year, I see no reason to change. UK gets the win, 24-21.