ATHENS – Georgia played like the No. 1 team in the country and took care of business against a determined No. 11 Kentucky team on the way to a 30-13 victory Saturday afternoon at Sanford Stadium.

ExploreMichael Cunningham: No more legitimate knocks against Bennett, Bulldogs

The win gave Georgia its first 7-0 start (5-0 SEC) since the 2017 season and puts it in firm control of the SEC’s Eastern Division with five games to play.

“Yeah, we’re proud of what we’ve done,” said senior Stetson Bennett, who threw for 250 yards and two touchdowns to improve to 4-0 as Georgia’s starting quarterback this season. “We’d be silly not to be; we’ve played good football. But that doesn’t mean we don’t want to take each and every opportunity to get better. So the focus of this week will be to get healthy, get better.”

The Bulldogs now have a week off before playing Florida in Jacksonville on Oct. 30. But the Gators likely are out of the conference race after losing to LSU 49-42 on Saturday to fall to 4-3 and 2-3 in league play.

No, it was the Wildcats (6-1, 4-1) who came in and went out of Week 7 as Georgia’s primary rival for the East championship. And there might be some bad blood going forward.

Kentucky called a timeout with only seven seconds remaining to try to score from the Georgia 1 trailing 30-7. The Wildcats got in the end zone on a pass to Wan’Dale Robinson to make the score 30-13 with four seconds to go. Fittingly, Georgia’s Jalen Carter blocked the extra-point attempt.

But even with the 22-play scoring drive to end the game, Kentucky became the sixth opponent in seven to fail to gain 300 yards against the Bulldogs. It had 243.

“I had a problem with the way it ended with our players,” said coach Kirby Smart, who improved to 23-11 in Top 25 games at Georgia, and 4-0 this year. “Running on the field, undisciplined, a block in the back trying to return the ball for two points. That would have been great to score on defense. But my problem was with our reaction to the moment.”

In the end, it remained meaningless to the outcome. And based on the day’s proceedings, there’s no indication Georgia is poised for a slip-up moving forward.

With quarterback JT Daniels still sidelined with a back injury, Bennett got his third start in a row and fourth this season. He had a hard day’s work ahead of him, but he and Georgia poured on some passing game in the second half.

It appeared Georgia had broken the game open with a 59-yard touchdown catch and run by tight end Brock Bowers less than two minutes into the second half. But the score was nullified by downfield holding against guard Justin Shaffer. So it was first down at the Kentucky 44 instead.

It didn’t end up being a big deal.

Three plays later, Bennett hit Bowers again, this time on a deep fade to the right, rear corner of the west end zone. That gave the Bulldogs a 21-7 lead just 2:37 into the second half.

Bennett went 4-for-4 passing on Georgia’s next offensive possession. But the 63-yard drive stalled at the Kentucky 9, and the Bulldogs settled for a 26-yard field goal and a 24-7 lead.

The Wildcats answered and had first-and-goal at the Georgia 10. But after and incompletion, a tackle for loss and a chop-block penalty, Devonte Wyatt blocked Kentucky’s field-goal attempt to end the third quarter.

Georgia took that momentum and used it as fuel for a seven-play, 82-yard scoring drive. It ended with another touchdown pass from Bennett to Bowers, this one covering 20 yards. They hooked up five times for 101 yards.

caption arrowCaption
Georgia tight end Brock Bowers catches a touchdown pass from Stetson Bennett past Kentucky defender JJ. Weaver 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”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Georgia tight end Brock Bowers catches a touchdown pass from Stetson Bennett past Kentucky defender JJ. Weaver 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”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

caption arrowCaption
Georgia tight end Brock Bowers catches a touchdown pass from Stetson Bennett past Kentucky defender JJ. Weaver 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”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

For the game, Bennett finished with 250 yards on an efficient 14-of-20 passing. Zamir White and James Cook each added touchdowns and led the Bulldogs’ 166-yard rushing attack with 97 yards between them.

Kentucky mounted another late drive, but ended up as the sixth team in seven to finish with fewer yards against the Bulldogs. The Wildcats had 243.

Linebacker Quay Walker led Georgia with eight tackles, but tackle Jalen Carter was the real defensive star for the Bulldogs. He had a sack and two tackles for loss to go with his six tackles. Also, the Bulldogs had two blocked kicks, Carter’s of the extra-point try at game’s end, and Jordan Davis and Devonte Wyatt teamed to block a field-goal attempt as the third quarter ended.

“Where can I start other than that is a very good football team,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said. “Let me give them the respect they deserve. Kirby does one hell of a job, and that is a complete football team. Very tough environment, and we knew we’d have to play at a high level.”

The hype was enormous. ESPN’s “College Football GameDay” and “SEC Nation” pregame shows were both conducted beforehand six-tenths of a mile apart on campus. Attended by a sellout crowd of 92,746 at Sanford Stadium, the game was also tabbed by CBS as its SEC Game of the Week and broadcast to a national TV audience.

But Kentucky hung tough. The Wildcats pulled out all the stops to go into the locker room trailing only 14-7 at halftime.

Georgia 30, Kentucky 13

Leading 14-0, the Bulldogs appeared to have forced a fumble on a sack of Kentucky quarterback Will Levis. Georgia outside linebacker Nolan Smith picked up the loose ball and returned it further into Kentucky territory at the 7:27 mark of the second quarter.

But after a video replay review, officials overturned the play. Though the ball remained in Levis’ hand only by the end of his fingertips, it was ruled an incompletion.

The Wildcats made good on the break, gaining 12 yards on the next two plays for a first down. After that, Kentucky gained first downs on a flea-flicker, an interference call on linebacker Quay Walker and a nifty 11-yard gain on a screen pass to Chris Rodriguez. On first-and-goal, a fake reverse and bootleg resulted in a touchdown pass to Justin Rigg with 3:53 remaining in the first half.

It was in the second half that things turned around for the Bulldogs. And Georgia did that by throwing the ball downfield.

“I’ll be honest, it wasn’t like we went in there (to the locker room) and said ‘ooh, we’ve got to throw the ball,” Smart said. “We didn’t say that. ... We just said, be aggressive; take what they give you.”

Georgia did, and it worked out well again.

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