GEORGIA (4-4, 2-4 SEC) at KENTUCKY (5-3, 4-2 SEC)
Tomorrow’s night-time affair in Lexington pits two teams which appear to be headed in opposite directions. Losers of three of its last four games, Georgia is simply trying to become bowl eligible, while in need of a sudden pick-me-up on what has become a stagnant offense. On the contrary, Kentucky, winners of three consecutive SEC games for the first time in a decade, seems to be improving with each passing contest, due in large part to an impressive ground game. Nevertheless, despite their apparent prowess, while hosting the Bulldogs, the ‘Cats are a slight underdog of 2½ points.
- The 2016 Georgia-Kentucky game will mark the 51st consecutive meeting between the schools in which the Bulldogs have been favored. The Wildcats have been an underdog to Georgia every year since being favored by 6½ points in the 1965 meeting in Lexington (a 28-10 Kentucky win).
- A loss to Kentucky would signify a losing record for Georgia this far into a season—nine games—for the first time since 2010 and for only the second time in the last 20 years.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
When the Dogs Have the Ball: Combining to gain just 96 yards against Vanderbilt and Florida while averaging only 1.8 yards per rush, the Bulldogs’ running attack has been diminished to a slow crawl. Still, Georgia averaged more than four yards per carry on first down last week against the Gators—if only the Dogs ran the ball more than eight times in such circumstances. Despite the hoopla surrounding Kentucky’s steadily improving squad, including defensively, the Wildcats have actually allowed 5.4 yards per carry during their current winning streak. If Georgia can’t run the ball on Kentucky, perhaps they can’t against any foe. Despite featuring an inept offensive line, if the Dogs utilize Nick Chubb and Sony Michel—something they neglected to do last week—Georgia’s ground game tomorrow could resemble the performances it had versus North Carolina and South Carolina (289 and 326 yards, respectively).
When the ‘Cats Have the Ball: Speaking of ground games, Kentucky has the best rushing offense in the SEC East and, in running backs Stanley “Boom” Williams (821 rushing yards) and Benny Snell (661), one of the best rushing duos in college football. However, it has been rather simple: the ‘Cats have run the ball extremely well against bad run defenses, and not so much versus strong run stoppers. In Kentucky’s five games in which it rushed for over 215 yards, whereby the Wildcats averaged 299 rushing yards per game and 5.8 yards per carry, all five opponents are currently allowing more than 150 rushing yards per game. On the contrary, in Kentucky’s three other games—all of which it rushed for less than 100 yards—whereby the ‘Cats averaged only 87 rushing yards per game and just 2.8 yards per carry, all three opponents currently allow less than 150 rushing yards per game. Georgia’s run defense falls in the latter category, as it has been rather stout all season, ranking 13th in the nation while allowing just 3.2 yards per rush, including less than two yards per carry in its last three games.
Special Teams: Georgia’s weekly special-teams slipup continued against Florida when the Bulldogs’ punting became so atrocious, the team actually began rotating between punters Hunter Long and Brice Ramsey. Georgia currently ranks last in the SEC and 111th in the FBS with a net punting average of less than 35 yards per kick. On the flipside, Kentucky has returned only nine punts the entire season—all by Charles Walker—but is averaging more than 12 yards per return, including a 65-yarder for a touchdown against New Mexico State.
Unlike last week, I would think Georgia is now aware that it must be able to run the ball to some degree to have any success. The good news is it appears the Bulldogs could have a lot of success running at Kentucky. Defensively for Georgia, the Wildcats have confronted few run defenses like they’ll face tomorrow night. Still, mixing the run and pass, Kentucky should gain their fair share of yardage, and will score some points, but the Wildcats won’t be able to quite keep up with the Bulldogs. In addition, turnovers could play a major factor in this game, and Georgia currently ranks first in the SEC in turnover margin (+6) whereas Kentucky ranks last (-11). I like the Dogs over the ‘Cats in what should be a relatively close affair in Lexington. GEORGIA 31, Kentucky 24.