football paper

The Georgia defense and Kentucky offense line up before a play during the first half of a college football game between Georgia and Kentucky at Sanford Stadium, on Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017. (Photo/Casey Sykes, www.caseysykes.com)

The No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs meet the No. 11 Kentucky Wildcats on Saturday in a battle of the SEC’s last unbeaten teams. This weekend’s outcome has heavy implications not only for this year’s SEC Championship, but also the entirety of the College Football Playoff.

Georgia and Kentucky each have 6-0 records in 2021, including a combined 8-0 record in conference play, and are seeking sole reign atop the SEC East. But for head coach Kirby Smart and the Bulldogs, their weekly standard stands independent of the opponent.

“The challenge is ahead for us, and I think each week our kids embrace that,” Smart said. “It seems like each week, for the last three, four or five games, we’ve had big games, and we’ve got another opportunity. That’s why you come to the SEC.”

Georgia boasts what is among the most complete teams in the nation. The Bulldogs rally around a defense that has allowed only 33 points through six games, good for an average of 5.5 points per game.

Georgia’s defensive corps has allowed only three total opposing touchdowns in the six wins.

Quarterbacks Stetson Bennett and JT Daniels have guided the Georgia offense into averaging more than 430 yards per game. All marks have helped Georgia ascend to college football’s coveted first-place ranking, a spot Smart says is valuable yet misinterpreted.

“It’s just a number,” Smart said. “I don’t see a plateau. the goal at the end of the season is to be number one, but to have an opportunity to be in [the final four].”

But this matchup may not be as one-sided as Georgia’s 2021 record against ranked opponents may indicate. The Bulldogs have beaten all three of this season’s ranked foes by a combined score of 81-13, and Kentucky defeated their sole ranked opponent, then-No. 9 Florida, 20-13.

“Kentucky has always been one of our physical games,” senior linebacker Adam Anderson said. “Coming back on Saturday and watching them play against LSU, we knew they are a physical team.”

Kentucky quarterback Will Levis, behind an All-SEC caliber offensive line, has helped the Wildcats average almost 200 passing and over 200 rushing yards per game. This rounded attack gives Kentucky the chance to establish what many of Georgia’s opponents couldn’t in Sanford Stadium: consistency.

The Wildcat defense is similarly equipped, allowing less than four yards per carry to opposing running backs and only four total rushing touchdowns on the

season. The struggle between a surging Georgia defense and dynamic Kentucky offense could easily be reduced to whichever team controls the trenches, resembling 2020’s 14-3 final.

Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops has beaten every SEC East team aside from Georgia, whom he currently holds an 0-8 record against.

The last time Kentucky beat the Bulldogs in Athens was in 2009, and the Wildcats should be hungrier than ever to dethrone Georgia with the Bulldogs’ No. 1 ranking.

“This whole team is so connected, we’re not really worried so much about the rankings or the outside noise,” said junior tight end and team captain John Fitzpatrick. “We’re so focused on what we can accomplish this season, and right now, that’s winning this next game against Kentucky.”