The engine of Kentucky’s offense is its run game. Through their first four games this season, the Wildcats called 88 more run plays than pass plays.
Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said Tuesday he expected the Wildcats to keep Georgia on its toes with a more fleshed out passing threat. That didn’t happen, and the Bulldogs decided to beat them at their own game.
Both teams threw fewer than 10 passes in the first half. It was an effective strategy for the Bulldogs, who had no trouble eating up yardage and tallying first downs to start the game. Meanwhile, Kentucky was sluggish early as Georgia’s SEC-leading run defense kept the Wildcats from getting chunk plays.
That switched in the second quarter. Kentucky found its legs and effectively limited Georgia’s offensive opportunities with a single drive that ate up more than 1/3 of the entire first half.
Looking for a quick score, Georgia offensive coordinator Todd Monken turned to quarterback Stetson Bennett to make a difference through the air. It didn’t pan out. One strong pass play was followed by Bennett’s first interception of the game, a tipped ball that canceled the Bulldogs’ last best chance to get a second touchdown before the half.
Georgia tallied 114 rushing yards in the first half, led as usual by sophomore running back Zamir White’s 64 yards on 11 attempts. Despite the absence of sophomore tailback Kenny McIntosh due to injury, running backs Kendall Milton and James Cook were strong supplements, averaging a combined 6.8 yards on six carries.
Unphased from a flubbed field goal attempt to end the first half, Georgia came out firing. Redshirt sophomore running back Zamir White punched through Kentucky's line on fourth-and-1 and scampered for a 22-yard score three minutes into the third quarter. Kentucky responded, developing what looked to be another time-consuming, run-first drive. Linebacker Monty Rice had a different idea. He punched the ball out of Kentucky quarterback Joey Gatewood’s hands and gave Georgia a chance to break the game wide open.
Yet when Georgia tried to vary its offensive approach, Bennett’s passing attack faltered again. Although he made a few good tosses to redshirt sophomore receiver Kearis Jackson and freshman tight end Darnell Washington, he lobbed an ill-fated pass into the Kentucky secondary that ended up in the hands of Kentucky’s Kelvin Joseph.
Bennett’s interceptions were less costly than they were against Alabama. While the Crimson Tide turned each of Bennett’s three picks into touchdowns on Oct. 17, the Wildcats failed to come up with points when the momentum was in their favor. Ultimately, Georgia’s feeble passing game worked more to prevent a blowout than keep Georgia from pulling out the win.
The Bulldogs' strategy wasn’t pretty, but it worked. A strong performance from their offensive line and a career-high 136 yards by White allowed them to outrush the most run-heavy team in the SEC. But with Bennett’s 131 passing yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions, the question remains whether he can bounce back from his two-game slide and keep Georgia’s offense two dimensional.