Byes have been good for No. 5 Georgia under Kirby Smart, which makes last week’s unexpected break very welcome for the Bulldogs.
At the very least, it gave the Bulldogs time to sort out their second-half collapse at No. 2 Alabama. The refresh will be needed Saturday at Kentucky against a team eager to move past its own disappointing performance.
The teams were originally slated to meet last weekend in Lexington before the Southeastern Conference rescheduled several games after COVID-19 outbreaks. Georgia (4-1 SEC) is looking to continue the success its had following an extra week of work and to maintain its half-game SEC East lead on No. 10 Florida.
“I feel like why we’re so successful after the bye week is all the preparation,” defensive lineman Malik Herring said of the Bulldogs’ 4-1 record after a bye under Smart. “We just go hard and focus on each other like camp practices. I definitely have seen that this past week.”
Brushing up on defensive fundamentals was a priority for the Bulldogs, who led the Crimson Tide 24-20 at halftime before yielding 21 unanswered points in a 41-24 defeat. Kentucky (2-3) presents more of a ground threat, but Smart wants his team ready for anything with the Wildcats possibly alternating quarterbacks.
“I’m sure they’re over there searching for ways to increase the passing game and do a good job, because they can’t be one-dimensional,” Smart said this week. “They had great success two years ago against us throwing the ball, especially late in the game, and it was with Terry Wilson. So, with us, we’ve got to worry about us.”
Kentucky appeared to be clicking in all phases of the game after a 34-7 rout at Tennessee before the offense stalled in a 20-10 loss at Missouri last weekend. The Wildcats managed just 145 yards including 47 through the air, creating a long day for a defense that had thrived creating takeaways.
The defense spent more than 43 minutes on the field and allowed 421 yards as a result of Kentucky’s stagnant offense. Georgia averages about the same yardage per game (419), requiring a big rebound on both sides of the ball for Kentucky to have a chance.
“The most important thing is you’ve got to be physical with them,” Kentucky nose guard Marquan McCall said of the Bulldogs. “They’re gonna come just like we’re gonna come, so you’ve got to be physical.”
Other things to watch as Georgia visits Kentucky:
WILDCATS QB CHANGE
Coach Mark Stoops on Thursday said senior Terry Wilson is out with a wrist injury, which elevates Auburn transfer Joey Gatewood to starting at quarterback. The initial depth chart listed both as options to start with freshman Beau Allen next. Allen will now back up Gatewood. An ineffective Wilson was pulled twice at Missouri and replaced by Gatewood, who also struggled but finished the game. Stoops had wanted to see if a banged-up Wilson could practice this week and how Gatewood looked before naming a starter.
Yards and points could be scarce against two of the SEC’s top defenses. The Bulldogs allow a conference-low 19.5 points per game, half a point less than the Wildcats. Georgia ranks second in total defense (318.5), two spots ahead of Kentucky (357.2).
Georgia junior Jake Camarda is averaging 45.8 yards per punt for his career and is on pace to break 2009 Ray Guy Award winner Drew Butler’s school-record career average of 45.4. Camarda ranks second nationally at 50.7, challenging Butler’s school mark of 38.1 as a sophomore in 2009. Kentucky counters with Max Duffy, last year’s Ray Guy Award winner, who ranks sixth nationally at 47.5.
Kentucky’s two-game surge of 10 takeaways ended at Mizzou, but the Wildcats remain tied for third in the SEC at plus-3. Nine interceptions highlighted their run and pose a challenge for Bulldogs quarterback Stetson Bennett to meet, particularly after Alabama picked him off four times.
“We have made an assertive effort to improve that,” Smart said. “Second was decision making on downfield throws and checkdowns. The third thing was putting us in the right play and making good decisions. He has worked really hard on those things.”
WINNING STREAK AT STAKE
Georgia can claim its longest series winning streak against Kentucky. The Bulldogs lead 59-12-2 and have won the last 10, matching their longest streak from 1978-87. Kentucky’s last win came in 2009 when the Wildcats rallied from a 20-6 halftime deficit to win 34-27. It was Kentucky’s first win in Athens in 32 years.
AP Sports Writer Charles Odum in Georgia contributed to this report.
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