Joey Gatewood’s debut on Saturday at Kroger Field was expected to bring a spark to an anemic Kentucky offense. Unfortunately, it was the nation’s 5th-ranked team that came out fired up as Georgia had little trouble disposing of the Wildcats in a 14-3 road win.
The Bulldogs set the tone early, scoring on its first possession as quarterback Stetson Bennett capped an 86-yard drive with a 2-yard keeper to give the Bulldogs an early 7-0 lead. After two lackluster drives, the Kentucky offense found its footing as Chris Rodriguez Jr. led one of the Wildcats best drives of the season, 19 plays over 10 minutes and 28 seconds, both season highs, only to fall short as the Wildcats had to settle for a 34-yard field goal by Matt Ruffolo to cut the lead to 7-3 at the half.
On the drive, Rodriguez carved up the Bulldogs defense to the Georgia 15-yard line, but never touched the ball again as Kentucky would turn the ball over on downs after a Gatewood keeper for short yardage, a sack and an incomplete pass to stop the momentum.
Georgia marching down the field to open the second half, scoring on a 75-yard drive that ended with a 22-yard scoring run by Zamir White. The PAT was good to push the lead to 14-3 with 11:38 remaining in the third quarter.
Gatewood, making his first start at Kentucky, played solid early on, showing positive signs as a runner, but also fumbled at the Georgia 36-yard midway through the third quarter, that at the very least, kept the Cats out of field goal range. It was Kentucky seventh lost fumble this season, most in the SEC. The big question now is when will head coach Mark Stoops turn to true freshman Beau Allen, a four-star recruit from Lexington Catholic, who’s considered an elite passer?
Gatewood finished 15-of-29 for 91 yards, while Rodriguez ended the day with 108 yards on 20 carries. The Wildcats have only scored one offensive touchdown in the past eight quarters - a touchdown pass from Terry Wilson to Josh Ali in the 4th quarter at Missouri.
Like the offense, the Kentucky defense also had some challenges, namely trying to stop Georgia’s White who ran for 137 yards on 26 carries. However, the defense did add two more interceptions to its season total after defensive lineman Phil Hoskins grabbed his own tipped ball at the line of scrimmage and Kelvin Joseph picked off Bennett for his third INT of the season.
With today’s performance, there should be little discussion about Chris Rodriguez as Kentucky’s featured back, especially in the red zone where the Cats continue to lack confidence. The redshirt sophomore from McDonough, Georgia, finished with 101 yards on 18 carries and led every significant drive, only to be left watching as the Wildcats were either stopped on downs, turned it over or had to settle for a field goal.
While Gatewood, like Wilson, is a dynamic runner, offensive coordinator Eddie Gran must make Rodriguez the focal point of the offense to have any chance of getting Kentucky back into the win column.
Once again, Jamin Davis could easily be picked as the game’s MVP after racking up double digit tackles (13) for the fourth consecutive game. The middle linebacker also blocked a field goal and caused a fumble, giving Kentucky a much needed boost as his stock continues to rise as an elite defender in arguable the nation’s best conference.
Kentucky, now 2-4, now gets a bye week before hosting Vanderbilt on November 14th at Kroger Field.