Kentucky at No. 10 Georgia
When and Where: Saturday, Oct. 19, Sanford Stadium, Athens, Ga., 6 p.m. EDT.
Put in the position of having to chase down Florida, 10th-ranked Georgia looks to bounce back from a surprising first loss of the season Saturday when its hosts SEC rival Kentucky.
The Bulldogs (5-1, 2-1 SEC East) are one-half game behind the Gators for second in the East -- both teams are trailing Missouri -- after their stunning 20-17 double-overtime home loss to South Carolina last Saturday.
Jake Fromm picked an inopportune time to throw his first three interceptions of the season -- all recorded by South Carolina's Israel Mukuamu -- as Georgia finished with four turnovers without forcing any. The Bulldogs still had a chance to extend the game to a third overtime, but Rodrigo Blankenship pushed a 42-yard attempt wide left.
Both Georgia and Florida will get their chance against Missouri in November, but the de facto elimination game for both the SEC East and any chance of reaching the College Football Playoff will be Nov. 2 in Jacksonville between the teams.
Kentucky (3-3, 1-3 East) snapped a three-game losing streak by rallying past Arkansas 24-20 last Saturday. Lynn Bowden Jr. provided the go-ahead points with a 24-yard touchdown run with 6:53 to play, and the Wildcats defense held firm before the offense killed off the final 2:32.
Bowden, a wide receiver pressed into quarterback duty because of injuries to Terry Wilson, Sawyer Smith, and Nik Scalzo, finished with 274 yards of total offense and three touchdowns. He ran for a career-high 196 yards and two scores while completing 7 of 11 passes for 78 yards and a touchdown.
Georgia has won nine straight games between the teams since a 34-27 home loss in 2009. D'Andre Swift had 156 rushing yards and two touchdowns in last year's 34-17 victory, including an 83-yard scoring dash in the third quarter to put the game out of reach.
Bowden may get second start at QB for KentuckyBowden, who has 1,013 all-purpose yards, showed up in four different places on Kentucky's two-deep depth chart for the week: Quarterback, wide receiver, punt returner, and kickoff returner.
.@UKFootball do-it-all WR Lynn Bowden Jr. filled at QB in last week’s win vs. Arkansas and was named a midseason All-American by The Athletic on Tuesday.— The Athletic CFB (@TheAthleticCFB) October 16, 2019
In August, @KyleTucker_ATH spoke with Bowden about how family and football saved his life: https://t.co/3bEPSEQtp3
It is the quarterback position, though, drawing the most attention ahead of this game. Wildcats coach Mark Stoops said regular starter Sawyer Smith is improving after sitting out last week with wrist and shoulder injuries but did not commit to restoring the junior as the start for this game. Smith has completed just 46.2 percent of his passes for 665 yards with four touchdowns and five interceptions.
“He's better, better," Stoops said at his Monday media availability. "Getting the update this morning in our staff meeting that he was further along. Obviously not playing. It was really important for us to get the victory, to get him some more rest so he can continue to get some strength.
“I think he's much further along. They threw out a percentage this morning, but it was significantly better.”
Bowden did help Kentucky to its best rushing effort of the season -- the Wildcats finished with 330 yards on the ground. They are 41st in the nation in rushing at 192.3 yards per game but are facing a Bulldogs defense that is sixth, yielding a mere 73.3 per contest. As unique a threat as Bolden is, Stoops knows he must find a way to balance Kentucky's offense to have success.
"We always look at the good things we're doing and build on those good things, sustain them, build on the good things we're doing, but also try to stay ahead and be creative," the coach said. “We certainly are going to have to have more balance this week. You just look at Georgia defensively, they give up a very, very few amount of explosive plays, very few explosive runs.”
Regardless of who is under center, limiting turnovers will also be important for Kentucky. The Wildcats have a minus-2 turnover differential and are tied for fourth in the SEC with 11 giveaways. Another area of concern is Kentucky's run defense, which has given up 173.2 yards per game and 5.1 per carry.
“Georgia puts so much pressure on you. These backs, they have their O-line, the backs, the quarterback, the whole deal. They can create an explosive play at any moment. So we have to play our best," Stoops said.
Bulldogs begin tough road reestablish CFP chancesIt is very simple for the Bulldogs to get to the College Football Playoff for the second time in three years, they have to win out. Despite the loss to South Carolina, all the pieces are still in place for Kirby Smart's team. It now comes down to whether Georgia can execute on a week-to-week basis with no margin of error when it comes to wins and losses.
"You’re always trying to set the golden standard, whether it’s how many first downs you give up, red area attempts, three-and-outs, we have a metric we use for almost everything and we haven’t had a game defensively that we’ve made over seven of our 10 goals," Smart said, "but to be honest with you we didn’t have any last year, either, because our goals are really high. I think our kids realize they are aspiring for excellence, not perfections. It’s the same way on offense, we have high targets and we aim high and try to hit them.”
Smart also noted the unique challenges facing Bowden brings for his defense, which is also sixth in the country in points allowed at 12.33 per contest. Georgia also has not allowed 20 or more points in back-to-back SEC home games since Smart took over in 2016.
“He reminds me of Hines. Hines Ward, anytime he got the ball back there at quarterback, what happens is you play conventional coverage and you forget the guy back there is always open," Smart said of Bowden. "Probably the most dangerous place he has as a football player is when he has the ball in space, at punt return, at kick return, a screen and every play at quarterback is that. He’s sitting there with seven lanes in front of him that he can take off and run."
Smart also has liked what he's seen in terms of leadership from Fromm, who has thrown for 236 yards and a pair of touchdowns in his two wins over Kentucky in the last two seasons. On the season, Fromm has thrown for 1,371 yards while completing 70.4 percent of his passes, but he has only nine TD tosses after accumulating 30 last season.
"Jake's been in good spirits. He’s been helping those wideouts, challenging them, just as he was before," Smart said. "He wasn’t not doing that before, but probably more attention to detail with that now."
Another concern for Smart is the weather. There's a 100% chance of rain in Athens at 6pm and most likely, the precipitation will continue throughout the game.
"I’m concerned about the weather conditions, because you never know what they will be, it’s not a variable you can control,” Smart said Thursday on his weekly call-in show. “I like going in the rain once every two or three weeks, but if it’s lighting, I can’t.
“But we have wet ball drill and we do it once every two weeks, it’s on a rolling schedule, so even if you’ve gone two or three weeks without a wet practice,” he said. “We spray the ball down, and make the quarterbacks and receivers catch it, throw it, exchange it, (and) kickers, holders, snappers … everybody has to. We were doing it (Thursday), spraying it down, making it as hard as possible”
- 0-6 ATS in its last six games vs. Georgia.
- The underdog is 0-6 ATS in the last six games between the teams.
- 4-1 ATS in its last five games following a straight up loss.
- 6-2 ATS in its last eight home games vs. Kentucky.
- 6-1 ATS in its last seven games vs. SEC teams.