Mike Hartline is now a proven commodity. Can he continue his success against Georgia?
Leonard Postero, late of Athens, Georgia and famous for the Leonard's Losers syndicated radio show which he made under the pseudonym "Leonard Postosties", used to refer to the Georgia Bulldogs as the Red Clay Hounds, among other things. I always loved listening to that show. Postero passed away in 2001, but every time I think of the Bulldogs, I think of Leonard's Losers.
The Dawgs are a'coming to Lexington on Saturday to see if they can corral the 'Cats in Commonwealth Stadium. Georgia has been schizophrenic this year, looking good one game and lousy the next. Their record currently stands at 3-4, which includes a four-game losing streak, 3 to SEC teams and one to Colorado Buffaloes.
But since getting A.J. Green back from a 4-game suspension in game 5, the Bulldogs have dropped only one of three games, a tough decision at Colorado. They have defeated Vanderbilt and Tennessee convincingly in the last two games by lopsided margins, and appear to have righted the ship somewhat, with the offense beginning to move the ball and the defense holding the currently inferior teams from the Volunteer state to a combined total of 67 yards on the ground.
Offensively, Georgia has been moving the ball well on the ground, but they have really shone in the passing game lately, racking up 266 and 315 through the air versus the Tennessee Volunteers and the Vanderbilt Commodores respectively in the last two games. To be fair, we should note that both the Vols and the 'Dores are in the bottom half of the league in pass defense, but neither of them is a cellar-dweller, so it's clear that the Dawgs have found a bit of rhythm offensively since Green returned to the lineup. No surprise there, that guy is really good.
The Bulldogs new commitment to balanced defense will be something a little different for Kentucky this weekend. The last two UK opponents have been conspicuously weak in one area of defense or the other. Although Georgia is not leading the SEC in either passing or running defense, they are doing well in both areas, and with their new found confidence on offense, they seem to be doing all the right things lately.
But everyone in the SEC knows that beating bad teams by lopsided margins at home does not make you even a good SEC team. Traveling to to the Bluegrass to take on a Kentucky squad fresh off a major upset of a top ten football team in the South Carolina Gamecocks and a close loss to the highly-ranked Auburn Tigers should definitely look like a crucible to the Dawgs, who just seem to be finding their game this year.
A win in Lexington would validate the existence of an actual heartbeat in the Georgia team, rather than just a pacemaker. Even though Georgia does not historically have a lot of respect for Kentucky, the Wildcats are 2-2 versus the Dawgs over the last four years, and the last time the game margin surpassed 11 points was in a 2005 45-13 beat-down between the hedges in Athens.
This game shapes up to be somewhat similar to the last. Kentucky's run game is likely to be weak due to the absence of Derrick Locke, who still hasn't recovered from the stinger he suffered in the Auburn game. As against the Gamecocks, the Wildcats are going to have to move the football through the air, and now that Mike Hartline has proven himself as the Wildcats QB beyond any reasonable doubt (currently #2 in the SEC in passing), I expect the game to be somewhat similar to what we saw against the Gamecocks offensively.
Defensively, there is no unit in the country more schizophrenic than the Wildcats. After yielding an embarrassing 59 points combined in the first halves of the last two games, the defense has allowed only 6 points in the second half combined. Sigmund Freud could have a field day with this defensive group. Maybe that's what they need -- a little group therapy. At this point, Joker Phillips and Steve Brown aught to be willing to try anything.
For Kentucky to win this game and continue its success, the defense has to find some kind of consistency, and I don't mean by just spreading out the points more evenly. Whatever they are tapping into at half time must somehow find a way to assert itself a bit in the first half. Depending on the offense to make dramatic touchdowns out of 4th and long at the end of games is just not going to be a winning formula very often.