For the first time in a while, Kentucky Wildcats fans have a late season SEC game circled on the schedule with high hopes that it will actually mean something other than trying to get bowl eligible.
This game has been targeted by more than one pundit as a possible SEC East Championship game between the Wildcats and the Georgia Bulldogs, but both teams will have to outperform their hype and get the results on the field.
The Wildcats have been tagged as a darkhorse pick in the East, but there is legitimate pressure on the Bulldogs, in Kirby Smart's second season, to have the SEC East wrapped up by this game.
I still find the whole Mark Richt firing situation at Georgia to be crazy and the Bulldogs took a step back last year, with an 8-5 mark after back to back 10 win years. Any honeymoon period for Smart appears to be over as the citizens in Athens are demanding that the Bulldogs earn the right to be Alabama's sacrificial lamb in Atlanta.
It appears that the Bulldogs will have a SEC Championship caliber offense. This was expected last season also, but this was a team that was 87th in total offense, but things have to get better, right?
Jacob Eason did what you expected as a freshman quarterback in the SEC. He was wildly inconsistent but showed glimpses of greatness. For the season, he passed for 2,430 yards and had 16 TDs versus 8 INT. He only completed 55.1% of his passes and needs to work on his footwork. Eason will more than likely improve, however, and if he does not. he could face pressure from incoming freshman, Jake Fromm.
Eason will be able to rely on arguably the best running back tandem in the nation with Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. They combined for 1,970 yards and 12 TDs last year. Granted, Chubb was not quite the Chubb of past years as he averaged 5.0 yards a carry down from 7,1 and 8.1 in the previous two seasons. If Eason does not improve, it will be easy for opposing defenses to stack the box and wait to stuff the running attack. Even if that happens, Chubb and Michel are still good enough to carry this team.
Much of the blame last season fell on the offensive line and that unit has lost three starters from last year. The Bulldogs have recruited well for the line positions, but whether that impact is seen this year or next is the question.
The receiving corps are young with their best player, Isaiah McKenzie, a Denver Bronco this season. They are talented, however, and you should look for players like Terry Godwin and Riley Ridley and TE Issac Nauta to step up and be playmakers for Eason.
The defense should be loaded, and the front seven will be bigger than some NFL units. Most of the members of the front seven are at least 6'3 and five linemen top the scales at over 300 pounds. It will be one of the top run defenses in the country and there are plenty of stars. Trenton Thompson had 9.5 sacks last year and Davin Bellamy will thrive in the jack-linebacker spot. Aside from that the roster is full of former four and five-star recruits and this is a very solid two man deep unit
The secondary is loaded with experienced players like safeties Aaron Davis and Dominick Sanders while corners Malkom Parrish and DeAndre Baker return. There is also a ton of young talent like five-star freshman Richard LeCounte and others expecting to fill out the two deep roster. Pretty much everyone will return from last season and it will be a tremendous disappointment if this is not a top tier SEC defense and perhaps second to only Alabama.
Last year, this was a heartbreaking loss for the Wildcats. Kentucky had a 21-13 lead against the Bulldogs at Commonwealth and the offense disappeared and they could not hold off the Georgia running attack. The end result was a crushing 27-24 loss.
Kentucky will be a better team this year, but will have to deal with going between the hedges in Athens and will face what should be a much improved Bulldogs team. This is a game that I wish was earlier in the season as Kentucky could get a crack at the Bulldogs offensive line while it is still finding its way. Look for Georgia to be clicking on all cylinders at this point in the season and that defense is going to be the determining factor for Georgia.
Look for the Bulldogs to hold their home field and turn back the Wildcats 31-20.