Another week, another home game, another Saturday with Georgia as a huge favorite.
The No. 10-ranked Bulldogs (5-1, 2-1 SEC) have been a multi-score favorite in every game at Sanford Stadium this season. That’s the case again Saturday as Kentucky (3-3, 1-3) comes to town as a 25-point underdog.
That’s a similar spread to the one handicappers posted for the South Carolina game Saturday. Georgia lost 20-17 in double overtime in its worst home upset since it was a three-touchdown favorite over Vanderbilt for homecoming in 1994.
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It’s homecoming day as Kentucky arrives, and the Bulldogs can only hope that they can stake themselves to a big lead because fourth-year coach Kirby Smart has proved to be bad in tight games. Last week’s loss dropped him to 3-4 those decided by seven or fewer points.
Here are some considerations as the Bulldogs seek to avoid another face-plant:
The biggest factor hovering over Saturday’s game is the weather. It’s supposed to rain. A lot.
Thanks to a tropical depression moving inland from the Gulf of Mexico, the forecast calls for a 90 percent chance of rain, with as much as two inches expected to fall on Sanford Stadium. That means a lot of things for the respective teams, chiefly towels, towels and more towels.
As for the fans, that generally means no-shows. The danger for the Bulldogs is, as we learned with last week’s noon kickoff against a decided underdog, they’re not very good at creating their own “juice,” as Smart likes to call it. Georgia is going to have to find motivation enough in not losing two weeks in a row as a three-TD favorite. That and that whole win-the-East goal.
If you’re thinking it hasn’t rained on the Bulldogs often, you’d be right. Georgia hasn’t played in the rain since Oct. 3, 2015, when the No. 6-ranked Bulldogs lost to No. 13 Alabama 38-10.
Who will start at quarterback for Kentucky apparently is a question. It’s questionable whether it should be, given the Wildcats’ performance at the position Saturday.
Lynn Bowden, normally Kentucky’s leading receiver and kick returner, was moved to quarterback in a surprise move before last week’s game against Arkansas. All Bowden (pronounced BO-den) did was rush for 196 yards and two touchdowns and pass for 71 yards and another score in a 24-20 victory, the Wildcats' first in SEC play this year.
Coach Mark Stoops went with the athletic Bowden over the regular starter, 6-foot-3, 219-pound junior Sawyer Smith. Smith started the three games after Terry Wilson was lost for the season to a knee injury against Eastern Michigan in the second game. Smith has been battling wrist and shoulder injuries, but otherwise had been ineffective. In four games he completed 46.2 percent of his passes for four touchdowns and five interceptions.
No trespassing zone
The Bulldogs are the only FBS team that has not allowed a team to run for a touchdown.
In fact, Georgia hasn’t given up many scores at all. It leads the SEC and is ranked sixth in the country in both points allowed (74, or 12.3 per game) and rushing yards (73.3 pg). The Bulldogs have posted 14 scoreless quarters this season and surrendered just 10 points in the second half of the past three games, which includes a field goal in double overtime last week.
So, defense hasn’t been a problem. However, as Smart and Georgia’s defenders pointed out this week, they’re still not getting enough done in the area of “havoc plays.” The Bulldogs’ stated goal this season is to record a havoc play – a fumble, interception, pass breakup, tackle for loss or sack --- on 20 percent of the opposition’s offensive plays. They didn’t come anywhere close to doing that against South Carolina, with only three tackles for loss, three pass breakups and zero turnovers.
Georgia has attracted national acclaim for its incredible depth of talent on the offensive line. That strength is being severely tested.
Starters Solomon Kindley (ankle), Justin Shaffer (neck) and Isaiah Wilson (ankle) all have been lost for one or more games with injuries. Meanwhile, part-time starters Ben Cleveland and Jamaree Salyer have been “banged up” and forced to miss all or parts of games. Only left tackle Andrew Thomas and center Trey Hill have not been relegated to the sideline because of injuries.
The situation reached a point of critical mass in the second half against South Carolina when both Shaffer and Kindley found themselves out of commission. Line coach Sam Pittman turned to the guy he always does in such situations – sophomore Cade Mays.
Mays ended up at left guard and has played every position on the offensive line (including tight end) except for center this season, and he works there in practice every week.
Why can’t the Bulldogs produce explosive plays on offense? That has been the question every day the past couple of weeks as Georgia continues to produce yards and first downs, but very few “SportsCenter” highlights on offense.
By the Bulldogs’ definition, explosive plays are runs of 12 or more yards and pass receptions of 16 or greater. Nationally, it tends to be thought of as any play of more than 20 yards. By any definition, Georgia hasn’t had enough of them. Jake Fromm’s longest completion is a 60-yard touchdown to Dominick Blaylock on an underneath route. Its longest run by D’Andre Swift was 40 yards against Murray State.
The Bulldogs will be without their most explosive wideout as graduate transfer Lawrence Cager will sit out with a separated shoulder, among other hurts. That means that the similarly built sophomore – 6-5, 220-pound Matt Landers -- will be pressed into larger role at the “X” receiver.