No. 5 Georgia Bulldogs beat Kentucky old-school style

Georgia running back Kendall Milton (22) is tackled by several Kentucky defenders during the second half Oct. 31, 2020, in Lexington, Ky. The Bulldogs won 14-3. (Bryan Woolston/AP)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Georgia running back Kendall Milton (22) is tackled by several Kentucky defenders during the second half Oct. 31, 2020, in Lexington, Ky. The Bulldogs won 14-3. (Bryan Woolston/AP)

When the most important plays in Georgia’s win over Kentucky on Saturday afternoon were a couple of referee re-spots by video review, you know you just witnessed an old-school football game. But you’ll hear no complaints from the No. 5-ranked Bulldogs, who needed little more than that to record a 14-3 victory over the Wildcats.

“It was a big win,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “It was one of those games that was tough, hard-fought and probably costly in a lot of ways. … But that’s the way it is every time we play them, a physical war.”

The win, Georgia’s 11th in a row over host Kentucky, sets up a likely top-10 matchup against Florida on Saturday in Jacksonville. The No. 10-ranked Gators (2-1) were playing host to Missouri on Saturday night, but were doing so still short of players because of a recent COVID-19 outbreak on the team.

Now, the Bulldogs (4-1) could be a little shorthanded, too. Georgia lost defensive players Lewis Cine (ankle), Jordan Davis (shoulder), Julian Rochester (knee) and Quay Walker (concussion) to injuries during the game. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs were playing without wide receiver George Pickens (shoulder) and running back Kenny McIntosh (knee), who did not make the trip.

“That’s what you have other players for,” Smart said. “They give us 85 scholarships.”

The Bulldogs played as conservatively as they have during Smart’s tenure, which is saying something. Georgia recorded touchdown drives on its opening possessions of both the first and second half, and that was it. The Bulldogs passed up an opportunity to kick a field deep in Kentucky territory late in the game and turned the ball over on downs instead.

In the meantime, Georgia was content just to run the football. The Bulldogs got a career-high 136 yards on 26 carries and a touchdown from sophomore running back Zamir White. It was the first 100-yard game of White’s career. Rushing accounted for 215 of the Bulldogs' 346 total yards in the game. It came on 43 attempts.

Quarterback Stetson Bennett recorded Georgia’s other score on a 2-yard run. But the junior threw two more interceptions, giving him five in the past two games.

“I thought I played well other than those two passes,” said Bennett, who was 9-of-13 passing for 131 yards. “… We’ve just got to score more points. We’ll be all right. We’ve just got to have a good week of practice and be more disciplined next Saturday.”

Kentucky, playing behind first-time starter Joey Gatewood at quarterback, was held to just 229 yards, with only 91 of that coming on pass plays. The Wildcats came in averaging 24.4 points a game.

Another positive for Georgia on offense is it scored on its opening possessions of each half. The Bulldogs hadn’t done that all season.

Leading 7-3 at halftime, the Bulldogs received the second half kickoff and went 75 yards in seven plays. The key play on the drive was Bennett’s 33-yard completion to tight end Darnell Washington.

Georgia faced a fourth-and-one at Kentucky’s 22 and went for it. White burst through at left guard with just enough for the first down, then shook free of two defenders and kept his balance to go the rest of the way for a touchdown. The Bulldogs never threatened to score again.

But Kentucky rarely threatened either. Just once, actually. The Wildcats managed 15 first downs by converting seven of 16 third-down conversions, but penetrated Georgia’s red zone only once. They lost one fumble and Georgia’s Richard LeCounte dropped what would surely have been pick-6 interception.

“We kept chopping, kept playing the play,” LeCounte said. “We couldn’t control who got hurt our anything like that. So the team just kept playing and we were able to hold them to three points.”

Georgia made its intentions clear on its first possession of the game. The Bulldogs drove 86 yards on its opening drive and got a 2-yard touchdown run by Stetson Bennett for a quick Kentucky 34-yard field goal after a drive that started at its own 7. Georgia didn’t attempt a single pass on the 12-play, 6:07 possession.

But the Wildcats had similar plans. With sophomore quarterback Joey Gatewood getting his first career start because of Terry Wilson’s wrist injury, Kentucky also had a conservative game plan of mostly zone-read runs.

Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett (13) passes the ball during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Kentucky, Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020, in Lexington, Ky. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)

Credit: Bryan Woolston

icon to expand image

Credit: Bryan Woolston

It looked as if the Wildcats would be in for a long day after punting on their first two possessions. But their veteran offensive line started to have its way with Georgia’s defense on their third possession, and Kentucky kept the ball for 20 plays on a 77-yard field-goal drive. Gatewood completed four of five passes on the series, which included two third-down and one fourth-down conversions. A 34-yard field goal made the score 7-3.

More important, the Wildcats kept the ball for 10:28 -- almost the entire second quarter – which limited Georgia to three offensive possessions at that point.

The Bulldogs were poised to extend their lead on their next series. But once again, a defensive lineman’s pass deflection thwarted Georgia’s Bennett. The Bulldogs ended up with first-and-goal at the Kentucky 10 after a 46-yard catch and run by James Cook and a pair of Zamir White runs for another 19 yards. But then 6-foot-5 defensive tackle Phil Hoskins, engaged by UGA left tackle Jamaree Salyer, reached out to bat down a pass for a wide-open White in the end zone. The ball deflected straight up into the air, and Hoskins came down with it and returned the interception for a few yards to 21-yard line.

The Wildcats were forced to punt, and the Bulldogs got one more shot. They made the most of it, getting a 53-yard field-goal try by Jack Podlesny. But Payne Walker’s snap hit the ground and holder Jake Camarda was unable to get the ball upright, resulting in a low blooper that barely cleared the line of scrimmage. The half ended with Georgia clinging to a 7-3 lead.

Smart was happy to get out of Lexington with a victory, ugly though it might have been.

“I was very proud and saw some resilient guys out there,” Smart said. “That’s pretty to me.”