Athens -- All season, turnovers have been the biggest of the Georgia football team's assorted problems -- but never bigger than in the second half of the Bulldogs' home finale Saturday night.
Georgia blew a 20-6 halftime lead and lost to Kentucky 34-27 in Sanford Stadium, principally because of four second-half turnovers. The first two led to Kentucky touchdowns. The last two sealed the Wildcats' victory, their first win in Athens in 32 years.
"It was the same thing that hurt us all season – the turnovers," Georgia linebacker Rennie Curran said afterward.
"The turnovers did us in, without question," coach Mark Richt said.
A fumble by Georgia's Branden Smith on the second-half kickoff set up a Kentucky touchdown that cut the Dogs' lead to 20-13, and the Dogs' blunders multiplied from there.
"Everything just snowballed," quarterback Joe Cox said.
With the game tied at 27-27 in the fourth quarter, Kentucky's Shane McCord intercepted a Cox pass at the Georgia 23 and returned it to the 8. That set up a 1-yard touchdown burst by Randall Cobb that proved to be the margin of victory.
Georgia was within a yard of re-tying the game with just over two minutes to play. But on third-and-goal from the Kentucky 1, tailback Washaun Ealey fumbled a Cox pitch, and Wildcats linebacker Danny Trevathan recovered it at the 2.
"I was trying to get the ball and get in the end zone as quick as I could," Ealey said. "I kind of took my eyes off the ball, I guess. I can't do that in big-time situations. . . . I was in a hurry to get the ball, and I forgot to look it in."
"It was weird," Cox said of the play. "When I came out to pitch [Ealey] the ball, he was real tight to me and kind of hitting it more inside than we usually hit it. And the ball just got on him too fast. I don't know if there was a miscommunication, or he saw something I didn't see, maybe where the hole was going to be. It was just a bad play all around."
Added Ealey: "I didn't realize I was that close, that I was coming downhill fast. I guess that was a miscommunication with him on my behalf. It just the fact that it was short yardage and I wanted to get in the end zone."
Georgia got the ball back one last time, around midfield via a Kentucky punt with 1:52 to play. But on the very next play, Cox threw another interception -- this one claimed by Kentucky's Sam Maxwell.
Georgia's four-turnover second half came after a turnover-free first half and a turnover-free victory over Auburn the week before. But for the season Georgia now has committed a whopping 26 turnovers in 11 games.
Saturday's flurry of turnovers helped Kentucky win its first game in Sanford Stadium since 1977 -- the Wildcats had lost 15 in a row between the hedges -- and dropped Georgia to 6-5 on the season. This is the most losses for Georgia in any season under Richt. And it was a particularly painful loss for the 23 seniors on the team.
"Nobody wants to lose any game. Then you make it your last game [and] you want to try to leave a lasting impression on the fans in the stadium you play in," Cox said. "And not only do you lose, you let a team come back and beat you.
"It's miserable. Not only do I feel bad for the seniors, I feel bad for everybody. We worked as hard as we could this whole season. Nothing has gone the way we want it to. It's just miserable."
The Dogs have one regular-season game remaining -- next Saturday's at rival Georgia Tech – and a bowl game, the stature of which presumably diminished with Saturday's second-half meltdown.
"We have only ourselves to blame for this loss, this feeling," Curran said. "It felt like everything that could have went wrong went wrong – all in one half. It's tough to watch, and it's tough to continue to fight hard. You're starting to make progress, and suddenly something else goes wrong. It's really tough.
"But at the same time all we can do to get this bad taste out of our mouths is to just continue to work hard, get back in the film room and get back on the field next Saturday and try to get a win. That's the only thing that's going to cure this feeling."
The loss was Georgia's second of the season at home.
The players wore black dog-bone stickers on their helmets Saturday night in honor of Uga VII, the beloved bulldog mascot who died unexpectedly on Thursday. A large wreath sat atop Uga's closed dog house.
The game marked the first played at Sanford Stadium in about a half-century without a bulldog mascot patrolling the sidelines, according to the mascots' owner, Sonny Seiler. Uga I missed a game or two in the 1950s, Seiler said.
There have been a few road games without an Uga on hand, most recently a 2005 game at Mississippi State. Bad weather forced Uga VI to miss that game.
Georgia had an impressive first half, building a 20-6 lead behind stellar defense (just 63 yards allowed) and balanced offense (286 yards gained, half rushing and half passing).
Kentucky took a 6-0 lead in the first quarter, aided by the Bulldogs' two-year-old penalty problem. A 15-yard penalty against Georgia for safety Bryan Evans' late hit on Kentucky quarterback Morgan Newton gave Kentucky a first down at the Georgia 24. Three plays later from the 20, Newton dumped a short pass to tailback Derrick Locke, who sprinted into the end zone for the game's first score.
Georgia dominated the rest of the first half.
Freshman Orson Charles caught three passes for a total of 53 yards on a first-quarter drive that ended with a 21-yard Blair Walsh field goal to cut the Wildcats' lead in half.
Georgia took a 10-6 lead early in the second quarter when freshman Rantavious Wooten made a superb catch of a 21-yard pass from Cox and stretched it to 17-6 on a Cox-to-Charles 20-yard pass.
Walsh's second field goal, from 46 yards, created the 20-6 halftime margin.
Georgia's apparent command over the game loosened when freshman Branden Smith fumbled the second-half kickoff and Kentucky recovered it at the Georgia 14. Two plays later, Randall Cobb scored untouched from the 12. The extra point cut Georgia's lead to 20-13.
The teams swapped touchdowns on their next two possessions, Georgia scoring on a 43-yard Cox-to-Wooten pass and Kentucky answering on a 21-yard Morgan Newton-to-La'Rod King pass.
With 12:22 left in the game, Kentucky tied score at 27-27 on a short Newton-to-Locke pass that Locke turned into a 60-yard touchdown.
-- Staff writer Carroll Rogers contributed to this article.
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