Georgia does little and wins. Is Kirby Smart playing possum?

Georgia running back Zamir White (3) scores a touchdown during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Kentucky, Oct. 31, 2020, in Lexington, Ky. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)
Georgia running back Zamir White (3) scores a touchdown during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Kentucky, Oct. 31, 2020, in Lexington, Ky. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)

Credit: Bryan Woolston

Credit: Bryan Woolston

If the aim was to win while showing as little as possible, Saturday’s result can be stamped “mission accomplished.” If the intent also was to infuriate every Georgia fan from Hiwassee to Hahira … well, the Bulldogs managed that, too.

Georgia beat Kentucky 14-3. The Bulldogs banked all the points they would need on their first drive. They scored only once again, not that they needed anything else to beat an opponent that acted as if it was desperate to protect a loss that, at least score-wise, won’t look so bad in the record book. Aesthetically, though, this collision of Cats and Dogs was a mutt with fleas.

Asked if, in the eye of a coach, there’s such a thing as an ugly win, Smart said: “Sure there is.” Asked if this qualified, he said: “Depends on what your appetite or your view was. … I was very proud and saw some good things out there, and that was pretty to me.”

From a non-coach’s perspective, we need to return to 2015 to find a Georgia victory less inspiring. (Take your pick of the 9-6 shading of Missouri or the unforgettable overtime defeat of Georgia Southern.) Difference is, that Georgia season led to nothing except Mark Richt getting canned – and Smart being hired. These Bulldogs hold out hope of winning the SEC and playing for the national championship.

Over four numbing quarters at Kroger Field, Georgia did everything in its power to give Florida, next up on the schedule, no reason to do anything but giggle. Stetson Bennett threw two more interceptions – that’s five in two games – and Smart made no move to try another quarterback. Not D’wan Mathis, who started Georgia’s opener at Arkansas but was pulled before halftime. Not JT Daniels, the USC transfer who hasn’t yet taken an SEC snap.

ExplorePhotos from Georgia's victory

Meanwhile, Bennett was trusted to throw only 13 passes. He completed nine for 131 yards. His first interception came when he tried to throw the ball over and/or through Phil Hoskins, a 6-foot-5 defensive tackle who was maybe two feet from the 5-11 Bennett.

“Except for me, I thought we played well today,” Bennett said.

Said Smart: “He did some good things. He didn’t get a chance to throw the ball because we were able to run the ball.”

Then: “He didn’t get a chance to make some plays because we didn’t have to.”

Georgia’s first touchdown came at the end of a 12-play drive, all 12 having been runs. (Technically, one was a called pass; Bennett wound up scrambling.) The Bulldogs' first official pass came with 25 seconds left in the first quarter.

It would have been fascinating to see what might have occurred had Kentucky showed anything – anything at all – on offense. But Joey Gatewood, making his first collegiate start in lieu of starter Terry Wilson, could manage no completion longer than 11 yards. The Wildcats held the ball for 35 minutes, but did next to nothing with all that possession.

Said Bennett: “It was a slow-moving game, a grinder of a game. We ran the ball; they ran the ball. The clock moved fast.”

(To which we say: Thank heaven for small favors.)

Georgia defensive back Richard LeCounte (2) tackles Kentucky quarterback Joey Gatewood (2) during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Oct. 31, 2020, in Lexington, Ky. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)
Georgia defensive back Richard LeCounte (2) tackles Kentucky quarterback Joey Gatewood (2) during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Oct. 31, 2020, in Lexington, Ky. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)

Credit: Bryan Woolston

Credit: Bryan Woolston

In the second quarter, Kentucky strung together a 19-play drive that spanned 10:28 and covered 77 yards. It ended in a field goal. The Wildcats would run only three more plays in Georgia territory, none inside the 40. Kentucky entered the game ranked 87th nationally in total offense, 92nd in passing yards.

With a No. 2 quarterback going against a splendid defense, the home side’s only chance was if the Bulldogs messed up mightily. To its credit, Georgia did not. Neither of Bennett’s interceptions left the Bulldogs in dire field position. (Note: Receiver George Pickens missed the game because of injury.) The Bulldogs throttled down – their longest gain came on a dinky Bennett pass that James Cook took 46 yards – and simply dared Kentucky to score a touchdown.

Georgia’s penultimate possession ended with Bennett finding Cook for 2 yards on third-and-7. Punting from nearly midfield, Jake Camarda pinned the Wildcats deep. Kentucky took the ball with nine minutes remaining. It ran 12 plays over 4:53 and gained – this beggars belief – 33 yards.

The Bulldogs took the ball with 4:10 remaining. Only after a fourth consecutive run did Kentucky coach Mark Stoops, who had three timeouts at his disposal, stop the clock. By then, 1:53 remained. Yes, Georgia did more than enough to win, but we can’t say their opponent went out in a blaze of glory.

Said Bennett: “We knew Kentucky was going to play the way it did on offense. We knew they were going to try to take the ball out of our hands. We started out running the ball and kept doing it.”

And that worked – against a 2-4 team without its starting quarterback. Uppermost on everyone’s mind is whether the Bulldogs can reasonably expect to beat Florida, which is bad on defense but sleek on offense, with its quarterback being asked to do so little.

Said Bennett: “We’ve just got to score more points. We’ll be all right.”

And maybe they’ll do both – score more and be all right. This is a great defensive team, and it’s not bad at running the ball. If memory serves, Vince Dooley won six SEC championships and a national title doing little else. But Dooley last coached on Dec. 31, 1988. The game has changed a bit since.

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