Another week and another game that will definite Mark Stoops career at the University of Kentucky. I know that this is said EVERY game this year, but to be honest, beating Georgia would be a really big thing for Mark Stoops personally.
The Wildcats have lost six in a row to the Bulldogs and the last win was a 34-27 thriller by Rich Brooks in 2009. Joker Phillips and Stoops both went 0-3 but Joker's losses were somewhat respectable. Phillips' Wildcats were outscored 92-65 with an average loss by 9 points. Under Stoops, the Cats have averaged a 49-17 beatdown at the hands of the Bulldogs.
Did I have to mention that a win over Georgia locks up a bowl bid? Let's meet the Bulldogs.
Like any freshman quarterback, Jacob Eason has alternated between great games and abysmal. For the season, he has completed 53.1% of his passes for 1509 yards and 10 TD against 5 INT. Eason has great size (6'5) and was a five-star recruit and one of the top pro-style quarterbacks in the country. He is going to be a really good SEC quarterback, but struggles are inevitable with a freshman.
When he is on, he is really good, as evidenced by his 308 yards, 3 TD performance versus Missouri or when he completed 67.5% of his passes for 346 yards against Vanderbilt. When he is off, he is off. He went 5-17 for 29 yards in a game against South Carolina that the Bulldogs actually won by 14 points. He is coming off a 15-33 Florida performance in which he passed for 143 yards.
On the ground, the Bulldogs have a great tandem of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. Due to injuries in part, this has been the least Nick Chubb season to date. Chubb has 606 yards and 5 TD on the season but is averaging a career-low 4.8 yards a carry. He has just two 100 yard games this year and has just 60 yards on 25 carries in his last two games against Florida and Vanderbilt. Michel has 360 yards and averages 4.7 yards a carry. Against South Carolina, he had 21 carries for 133 yards.
During the time that Chubb was out, Freshman Brian Herrien really stepped up. He averages 6.4 yards a carry and averaged 9.1 yards on 9 carries versus South Carolina. With a healthy Chubb, his role has been limited and he has just four carries in his last two games.
Junior Isaiah McKenzie leads the Bulldogs in receiving with 30 catches for 415 yards and 5 TD. Over half of that production came in two games against North Carolina and Missouri. Also look for McKenzie out of the backfield as he has 4.9 yards a carry and has a rushing touchdown. Sophomore Terry Godwin has 21 catches for 272 yards and has seen his production rise the last couple of games.
McKenzie and Godwin are just 5'8 and 5'11, but freshman TE Isaac Nauta is a big target at 6'4 and is tough to bring down. Nauta has 17 catches for 206 yards and has found the endzone twice. Riley Ridley is another freshman that has been playing well with 17.5 yards a catch and 2 TD.
Overall, the Bulldogs have a pretty balanced offense averaging 199.2 yards through the air and 173.8 on the ground. While respectable, this is not the high-powered Bulldog offense of years past and the running game is averaging just 4.3 yards a carry. By comparison, last year's team averaged 192 yards a game on the ground and 5.1 yards a carry.
If you are going to point fingers at the demise of the Bulldogs, you start with the defense. Georgia is giving up nearly 10 points a game more than last year as the scoring defense has increased from 16.9 points last year to 26.1 this year. The core of the defense is it's run defense and that is still pretty solid. The Bulldogs give up just 3.2 yards a carry and an average of 109.8 yards a game.
DT Trenton Thompson does a great job of getting in the opposing backfield and getting to the quarterback. He has 2 sacks and 5 TFL among his 35 tackles, which is third on the team. DaQuan Hawkins-Muckle is a solid run stuffer and has 18 tackles. NT John Atkins has 14 tackles and Freshman Julian Rochester has been a pleasant surprise with 21 tackles on the season.
Natrez Patrick leads the team in tackles with 49 and puts steady pressure on the quarterback and has a sack and 4.5 TFL on the year. Lorenzo Carter leads the team with 4 sacks and contributes 28 tackles. Davin Bellamy has 2.5 sacks and 4.5 TFL among his 31 tackles. All three of these linebackers do a great job of putting pressure on the quarterback. Bellamy leads the team with 11 quarterback hurries while Carter has 10 and Patrick 6. Roquan Smith is a great run stuffer with 48 tackles and has 3.5 TFL.
Malkom Parrish is probably one of the better pass defenders on this team with 30 tackles and 8 passed broken up and an interception. Dominick Saunders has a couple of interceptions to go with 22 tackles. Aaron Davis is a hard hitting CB who has forced 2 fumbles and has an interception. Davis is fourth on the team with 34 tackles and is a very active defender. Maurice Smith does a good job of getting to the quarterback as well on blitzes and has a sack and an interception. FS Quincy Mauger and Juwuan Briscoe each have two interceptions.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN?
The first thing that Kentucky has to do is to get the memory of the last three years out of their heads and those horrific beatdowns. Kentucky has played the worst by far, under Stoops, against Georgia and it all starts at the top with him for this one. Even though Georgia may have the better team and more talent, they are reeling and the Wildcats are surging. Stoops needs to make sure his team has the mindset that they should win this game.
For the first time in seemingly ever, Kentucky has a more impressive ground game and they need to win this game on the ground and make steady gains against this tough Georgia run defense. Ole Miss had the best game on the ground against the Bulldogs and that was for just 180 yards. And even though the team has been struggling, it has been harder to run against the Bulldogs as of late. In the last three games, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, and Florida have managed just 192 yards on 106 carries. That's 1.8 yards a carry. Yikes.
In those games, opposing passing offense have managed just 288, 109, and 131 yards. In other words, this is going to be a grind it out affair. However, no other run offense is clicking as smoothly as Kentucky's right now, either.
With Stephen Johnson and the "wildcat" offense, Kentucky can throw a different look at the Georgia defense. The focus will be to have enough four to five minute possessions to give the defense rest rather than a series of three and outs.
Johnson does not have to have a perfect game, but he has to have a turnover free game. Same goes for the rest of the offense. Kentucky can not have a negative two turnover ratio and win this game. Johnson could potentially have a pretty good day and if he can pass for around 240 yards, it should be a good day for Kentucky.
Years of recruiting mean that Georgia has the better team in this game talent wise, but that gap is narrowing. The Bulldogs are still favored but a sold out and insane Commonwealth Stadium could actually be a factor. It's important for Kentucky to strike early and to get an early lead and keep the crowd in the game. And for the players that have been on the other side of these blowouts to get those games out of their minds.
Even with the growing pains, I like how Mark Stoops has this team playing. For seemingly the first time, they are playing like "his" team and like a team that desperately wants to win for him. Georgia has not played that well on this road and I think that Kentucky is up to the challenge. I originally had this as a sure loss in the preseason, but I'm calling it 21-17 Kentucky.