Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray has the Bulldogs playing outstanding football.
The Kentucky Wildcats (4-6, 1-5) hop the plane to Athens to take on the No. 13 Georgia Bulldogs (8-2, 6-1), winners of eight straight games, in a 12:21 ET kickoff televised by the SEC Network. Georgia head coach Mark Richt, who was simmering in the hot seat only a few months ago, has his team playing their best football right here, and right now. The Wildcats, well, they are not playing good football right now, and after the 38-8 embarrassment in Nashville last week at the hands of a much-improved Vanderbilt squad, Kentucky needs to show proof of life, because after registering these numbers, a pulse might be hard to prove -- Nine first downs; 32 net rushing yards; 21:06 time of possession; 10 penalties for 105 yards; 0-12 in third down conversions ... all in all, not the 'Cats best week.
The Bulldogs, who are playing for the right to participate in the SEC Championship game, will surely be focused and surely will remember UK's last visit to scenic Athens, a 34-27 Wildcat win. Of course on that day, Randall Cobb and Derrick Locke both found the end zone twice for the 'Cats, and Bulldog QB Joe Cox tossed two picks. Unfortunately for UK, none of those players will be on the field today.
Meet the Dawgs
Georgia is led on offense by sophomore quarterback Aaron Murray (6'1" 211-pounds). Murray has been nothing short of spectacular for Richt this year, passing for 2,284 yards and 27 touchdowns (and only eight interceptions), while completing 61.2% of his passes (167-273). Murray is second in the SEC, averaging 228.4 pass yards per game, and he leads the league with a pass efficiency rating of 158.2.
Worse for the 'Cats, Murray is improving as I type -- The super soph failed to throw a TD pass against Tennessee, but in the four games since, he's tossed 14 touchdowns, four last week versus No. 24 Auburn.
When Murray puts air under the ball, he isn't shy about spreading the wealth among his options -- On the year, Murray has tossed touchdowns passes to 12 different receivers. His top pass catcher is junior tight end Orson Charles, who has made 32 catches for 395 yards (12.3 yards per reception), and scored five touchdowns. Junior flanker Tavarres King (6'1" 192-pounds) leads UGA with six touchdown receptions, while catching 31 passes for 363 yards (11.7 ypr).
Murray's big play threat is 6'1" 184-pound freshman wide out Malcolm Mitchell, who on the year has 28 receptions for a team-leading 523 yards (18.7 ypr) and four touchdowns. Split end Michael Bennett, a 6'3" 208-pound redshirt freshman also has 28 catches, good for 287 yards (10.2 ypr) and four touchdowns.
Needless to point out, but UK's beleaguered secondary figures to be in for a long day if the 'Cats aren't able to put pressure on Murray, taking him out of his comfort zone. If Murray is able to stand comfortably in the pocket, make his reads and throw darts, the Wildcats will be staring straight down the barrel of another big loss. One potential bright spot, though -- Georgia has allowed 22 sacks on the year (seventh in the SEC), a figure the 'Cats will need to add (significantly) to in order to have any chance of keeping this game close, but, UK is last in the SEC in sacks with only 10 QB take-downs ... causing the opposing quarterback discomfort has not been UK's specialty this season.
When Georgia opts to keep the ball on the ground, they put the pigskin in the capable hands of freshman running back Isaiah Crowell. Crowell, whose 91.2 rush yards per game ranks third in the conference, has rushed for 821 yards on 170 carries (4.8 yards per carry) and five touchdowns. He isn't a pass catching threat, but he does have six receptions on the year, one for a TD. Carlton Thomas, a 5'7" 163-pound junior running back spells Crowell in the backfield, and has run for 327 yards on 59 carries (5.5 ypc) and two touchdowns.
Both Crowell and Thomas torched Auburn last week with a combined 259 rushing yards on 39 carries (6.6 ypc) and one touchdown.
Defensively, Georgia attacks the ball, and then attacks some more. Led by outstanding free safety Bacarri Rambo (one of the best names in college football) and his league-leading seven interceptions (second in the nation), the Bulldog secondary is the definition of "bend-but-don't break." Corner back Sanders Commings, who has 12 pass breakups (uh, that's a lot) and one pick to his credit, ranks fourth in the SEC in passes defended. Although Georgia gives up a middling 186 passing yards per contest (6th in SEC), they've allowed only nine passing touchdowns on the year, tied for third stingiest in the conference.
Strong safety Shawn Williams (6'1" 220-pound junior) and corner back Brandon Boykin (56'10" 183-pound senior) are also highly capable members of the Georgia secondary -- Williams has 47 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, and two interceptions on the season, while Boykin has 7.5 tackles for loss, seven pass breakups, and two picks on his resume.
Responsibility for stopping the run and putting pressure on the opposing QB falls to exceptional linebackers Jarvis Jones and Michael Gilliard. Jones, who leads the league with 16.0 tackles for loss (yes, you read that right), 10.0 sacks (third in the nation), and oh-my -goodness, 26 quarterback hurries, is a man UK's o-line must account for on every offensive snap. Richt play Jones on the outside, and at 6'3" 241-pounds, he is an excellent athlete with great speed and power, which allows him to create havoc in the backfield.
Gilliard, checking in at 6'2" 220-pounds, leads UGA with 54 tackles.
Defensive end Abry Jones (6'3" 308-pound junior) is also capable of making quarterbacks suffer; on the year, Jones has 5.5 tackles for loss and 4.0 sacks to his credit.
Don't shoot the messenger: UK 13 UGA 42
Thanks for reading and Go 'Cats!, prove me an idiot.