Kentucky perfectly suited to knock off No. 1 Georgia

Georgia football-Kentucky-live updates-score-injury news-analysis-week 12

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

101621 Athens: Georgia tight end Brock Bowers gets into the endzone for the touchdown past Kentucky defender JJ. Weaver (left) and Yusuf Corker to take a 30-7 lead during the 4th quarter in a NCAA college football game on Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, in Athens. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

ATHENS — Win streaks are peculiar things. There is no explaining them sometimes.

For instance, with its 33-14 victory Saturday, Kentucky won its third consecutive over Florida. Not long ago, the Gators owned the SEC’s longest win streak in one series – and the fifth longest in NCAA history – by beating the Wildcats 31 consecutive times from 1987-2017.

Georgia just beat Auburn for a seventh time in a row Saturday. That’s the longest win streak in the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry since the Bulldogs won nine straight from 1923-31. That’s hard to fathom in a series that until very recently was split down the middle not only in wins and losses but was close to 50/50 in points scored for and against, too.

Then there’s Georgia-Kentucky.

The Bulldogs haven’t lost to the Wildcats since 2009. That gives Georgia more wins in a row (13) than Kentucky has in the entire 75-game series (12), which UGA leads 61-12-2.

The 13-game win streak is the Bulldogs’ second-longest over any opponent ever. They won 22 in a row – and, in fact never lost to – Mercer. The Bears’ 81-0 loss to Georgia in Macon in 1941 finally killed the series forever.

Yet, Georgia coach Kirby Smart will tell you that nobody has played his team better during its current run of success than the Wildcats. The No. 1-ranked Bulldogs (5-0, 2-0 SEC) will enter Saturday night’s matchup on a school-record 22-game win streak that dates to beating Michigan in the 2021 College Football Playoff semifinal. But some of the toughest games in that stretch come against this same Mark Stoops-coached Kentucky football program that seeks to avoid losing its 14 consecutive to Georgia on Saturday night at Sanford Stadium. That includes the 16-6 chalkboard-scratcher the Bulldogs pulled out in Lexington last year.

“Every game is going to be tight with Kentucky,” Smart said this week. “They do a great job of shrinking the game. There’s just as not as many plays with the offensive identity they’ve created. They’re one of the last (teams) in the country in terms of possessions, and they do an unbelievable job of running the ball.”

No. 20 Kentucky (5-0, 2-0) counters in with an undefeated, senior-led team that seems tailor-made for combating the Bulldogs.

“You’d have to be a moron not to appreciate what Georgia does,” said Stoops, in his 11th year leading the Wildcats. “They’re pretty impressive on all levels: They recruit at a high level, they develop their talent and they coach them very well. You put those together, and that’s a pretty good combination.”

Kentucky grabbed college football’s attention Saturday when running back Ray Davis ran through the Gators to the tune of 280 yards and four touchdowns. The Wildcats had a total of 329 yards rushing in that game. But that’s not all they do on offense.

Kentucky actually ranks only fifth in the SEC in rushing (170.4 ypg). With former N.C. State quarterback Devin Leary piloting the offense, the Wildcats have one of the best combined explosive rates in the country when it comes to passing and running. Leary has completed only 57% of his passes, but already has 10 TD throws to his credit.

Georgia, which led the nation against the run a season ago (77 ypg), hasn’t been nearly as effective this year (113.4). But under Smart the Bulldogs are best known for taking away whatever an opponent does best and forcing them to try to beat him unconventionally. That’s what the Wildcats are expecting.

“It’s not just on Leary, but he has to put the ball in position for the receivers can make a contested catch,” Stoops said. “We need to be more balanced.”

Meanwhile, the UGA campus is buzzing. This is the biggest game at Sanford Stadium since No. 1-ranked Tennessee visited in November. The Bulldogs won that one 27-13.

They’ll look to extend their home win streak to 23 games Saturday. The longest to date was 24 games from 1980-83.

“Guys are definitely excited, for sure,” Georgia’s senior center Sedrick Van Pran said. “But the biggest thing is not becoming too excited and over-stimulated. … You have to take it in stride and prepare the right way. The biggest thing is being able to handle those emotions.”

Said sophomore receiver/running back Dillon Bell: “Lot of excitement, especially after last year. We know they’re a very hysical team, and we just want to get the job done at the end of the day.”

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