No. 5 Georgia leads Kentucky 7-3 in Lexington, Kentucky, at halftime in its first game back since losing to No. 2 Alabama 41-24 on Oct. 17. Here are some observations from The Red & Black:
Fewer weapons, still productive
Head coach Kirby Smart was optimistic Wednesday that sophomore wideout George Pickens would be on the field today following an undisclosed injury this week. He didn’t travel with the team to Lexington. Also absent from the gridiron was sophomore running back Kenny McIntosh. A reliable presence in both the run and pass game, McIntosh was out due to a knee injury against Alabama on Oct. 17.
Georgia didn’t miss them in the first half. Mirroring Kentucky’s run-first approach, Georgia’s opening drive featured 12 consecutive runs for 86 yards to get quarterback Stetson Bennett in range for a breezy rushing touchdown. The Bulldogs’ offensive line had no trouble fending off Kentucky’s defensive front. Run lanes were wide open, and running backs Zamir White, James Cook and Kendall Milton all posted runs of nine yards or longer.
After its strongest offensive start of the season, Georgia continued to ground and pound. By the end of a short first half, both teams had combined for only eight completions. Georgia narrowly won the ground war after a productive Kentucky second quarter with 114 rushing yards to Kentucky’s 82.
Bennett’s mistake late
Following his disastrous two-interception, zero-touchdown second half at Alabama, Bennett was off the hook for leading Georgia’s offense for most of the first half. Georgia offensive coordinator Todd Monken relied heavily on his backfield, calling 20 run plays to eight passes.
Bennett was solid on the ground. Despite one inconsequential fumble — Smart had expressed concern for Bennett’s ball security earlier this week — his read option decisions were effective, highlighted by his opening drive two-yard touchdown.
Georgia was poised to go up two scores before the half. Bennett finally created a chunk play at the end of the second quarter, connecting with running back James Cook for a 46-yard gain. But it was erased shortly after with a batted-ball interception reminiscent of Bennett’s opening drive interception against Alabama. He again found the outstretched hand of Kentucky’s Phil Hoskins, who tracked down his own tipped ball and eliminated Georgia’s late momentum.
Although Bennett created a field goal opportunity in the final seconds with a well-managed drive, Georgia botched the snap to keep the score 7-3.
Kentucky’s second quarter dominance
Filling in for senior quarterback Terry Wilson, Kentucky’s Joey Gatewood faced an unforgiving defense in his NCAA debut. The Wildcats ran the ball almost exclusively in the first half, but they struggled early on to find the same holes Georgia’s tailbacks exploited so consistently.
After a Georgia drive fizzled out around midfield at the top of the second quarter, Kentucky found its explosiveness. Starting from inside its own 10 yard line, Kentucky refused to give the ball up. Gatewood ran less often, and running back Chris Rodriguez pushed Kentucky downfield to keep Georgia’s defense on the sideline.
The 19-play drive lasted for more than 10 minutes until Georgia’s defense finally made a stop on its own 15 yard line. Despite dominating the quarter, Kentucky had to settle for a field goal.