As Georgia and Kentucky steamroll towards this weekend's undefeated matchup, The Red & Black gives an update on the state of both secondaries.
Even after allowing 217 passing yards to Auburn, the most since the Bulldogs played South Carolina in September, the biggest losses for the Georgia secondary may lie in injuries.
Both starting safeties Christopher Smith and Lewis Cine were injured in the win at Auburn, and their status for this Saturday remain in question. Smith accrued a shoulder injury during the game, which sidelined him in an arm sling for the majority of the afternoon. Cine was removed in the third quarter due to injury, but later returned to play in the game’s latter stages.
Still, questions surrounding the veteran players’ availability swirl heading into Georgia’s high-profile game against Kentucky.
Smith leads the defense in interceptions with two, and is fourth among Georgia defensive backs in total tackles with ten. Cine is third on the team with 22 tackles and has the most passes defended with five.
Their absences gave way to Dan Jackson, who performed admirably in a plug-and-play role against the Tigers. The redshirt sophomore who has seen limited time this season led the Bulldogs with 6 tackles, the most on the team. Given the injury concerns in Georgia’s already thin defensive backfield, Jackson could see the field again Saturday.
The Bulldogs were also without Ameer Speed, a late-week scratch, who did not travel with the team to Auburn. His status also remains questionable, although probable for Saturday.
Familiar faces in Latavious Brini and Kelee Ringo will have to anchor this now injury-prone position group. As will recent addition STAR/safety Tykee Smith, who was reinstated from a foot injury. Brini finished last week’s game with five tackles, one for a loss, and Ringo had three tackles and a pass break-up.
Kentucky will be without its No. 2 receiver Josh Ali after he sustained a leg injury against the Wildcats’ win against florida. Still, the Georgia secondary will have to silence the SEC’s leading receiver Wan’dale Robinson and transfer quarterback Will Levis.
Kentucky stands tall
Kentucky ranks 18th in the country in total defense, allowing just over 300 yards per game, and although much of that success can be attributed to stout run defense, the secondary has played well as of late.
Four of Kentucky’s top six tacklers are in the secondary. Sophomore Carrington Valentine leads the way in the backfield with 36 total tackles, good for third on the team. In last week’s win, Valentine also led his position group with seven tackles and a pass defence.
Alongside Valentine are seniors Yusuf Corker and Davonte Robinson. The two combine for 65 tackles on the season and are the most experienced members of the Wildcat defensive backs. Fellow senior Tyrell Ajian and his 28 tackles round out the top four performers.
Despite allowing 261 passing yards to LSU, Kentucky’s secondary has helped limit two of their last three opponents to less than 14 points. LSU had only 220 total yards through the first three quarters, and the Wildcats allowed no passing touchdowns during the game.
Being able to manage the Georgia offense will require solid coverage on the Bulldogs’ emerging receiving threats in Ladd McConkey and Brock Bowers. Additional receiving reinforcements may also be on the way for the Bulldogs in the form of Jermaine Burton and Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint, who could both return from injury against Kentucky.
The Kentucky secondary will have to extend their productive outings against a deep Bulldog offense in order to position themselves for an upset against the country's top-ranked team.