In a game involving two top ten teams, you don’t always expect the first series and exchange to set the tone for the entire affair, but that’s exactly what happened Saturday. Georgia’s defense stuffed Benny Snell to force a punt, which Mecole Hardman returned 65 yards to set up a short scoring drive consisting of three Holyfield runs and a touchdown pass to Nauta. Kentucky never got closer than 7-3 after that.
Run the ball on offense and stop the run on defense is the SEC’s tried and true formula for winning and Georgia pursued that with a vengeance, out-gaining the ‘Cats in rushing yardage 331 to 84 along the way to a 34-17 victory that didn’t feel as close as the score indicated. (Some of that due, no doubt, to a couple of sloppy fumbles that blew up scoring opportunities.)
That wasn’t the only general point of interest for me. Kentucky’s vaunted experience turned out not to be a factor, because (I suspect, as I mentioned pre-game) it wasn’t experience in the particular setting of a big game with serious consequences. Georgia was the team playing the green kids — lots of ’em, as a matter of fact — but it was the senior laden ‘Cats that looked a little tight and lost their composure on occasion. Score one for act like you’ve been there before.
And now, your bullet points.
- I’m sorry, but Kroger Field really doesn’t have the same cachet as, say, Death Valley.
- I simply can’t get over how well that patched up offensive line played. Two sophomores, three freshmen, 331 rushing yards, zero sacks, four tackles for loss totaling a mere minus-6 yards. Can you imagine how nuts Munson would have gone over that performance? Sam Pittman is a frickin’ wizard.
- For those of you wondering if Jake Fromm would ever find his Javon Wims replacement, his name is Jeremiah Holloman. The confidence Fromm has in Holloman is obvious, but he needs to be careful not to overdo it. On the throw in the endzone where Holloman was covered, Jake had a wide open receiver (Ridley?) on the left side.
- Nice pass play to Nauta for the first touchdown. If I’m calling plays for Georgia, next time the offense is on the opponent’s one-yard line, I’m telling one of the offensive linemen to draw a false start penalty to avoid running behind that useless power set.
- Either that, or keep using Jayson Stanley on the jet sweep. Nobody saw that coming.
- Another week of concentrating the carries between Holyfield and Swift, another week of a solid running game. By Jove, Holmes, I think they’re on to something. Also good to see Swift getting his share of outlet passes.
- A Fields sighting this week! And it wasn’t just for show, either, as he picked up a crucial first down with his feet. I just wish he hadn’t given up so quickly on his one pass attempt on the day, as it looked like he had a receiver on the right breaking open just as he pulled the ball down.
- Jake Fromm, game manager. He may not have been asked to do much, but what he did, he did effortlessly and efficiently. Quite frankly, it’s good news for Georgia when Fromm doesn’t attempt more than 20 passes in a game.
- The receivers may not have had that many catches, but you don’t rush for over 300 yards without having some serious downfield blocking in the mix. They did their part.
- Kentucky may have had the rep coming in, but it was the Dawgs’ defense with the four sacks on the day. (Georgia also had more tackles for loss.) The coaches committed to some of the youngsters (hey there, Tindall and Anderson!) playing early and often and the increased speed from the linebacking position was noticeable. Hope that’s the start of a trend.
- That was easily Jonathan Ledbetter’s best game of the season. If he made a mistake all day, I missed it.
- I can say the same thing about Brenton Cox (although he may not have been perfect). He did a nice job of stepping up in D’Andre Walker’s absence.
- Man, that was some tough luck for Tae Crowder on Kentucky’s only big play of the day.
- He’s had a rough year in pass coverage, but Natrez Patrick had one brilliant pass break up. He may have surprised even himself, as he was close to picking it off.
- They keep going right at Tyson Campbell and he keeps recovering fumbles. That which does not kill you makes you stronger, young man.
- Yeah, that was a bullshit pass interference call on Deandre Baker. Thanks, Hubert and crew.
- Special teams play was better than it had been in the past couple of games. Rodrigo was flawless, with one exception on a kickoff. (I’m beginning to believe the kickoff coverage team is simply too relaxed and reliant on touchbacks for its own good.) The Hardman punt return set the tone for the day, as I mentioned. Camarda only had to punt once on the day, but it was a 55-yard beaut with no return.
- Coaching? I see the criticism Chaney’s getting in certain quarters, but, jeez, peeps, Kentucky’s defense hadn’t given up more than 20 points or 164 yards rushing in a game all year, Georgia goes for 34 and 331 and some of you want to gripe? Methinks you’re getting spoiled.
- There’s a similar story to tell on the defensive side. Playing a lot of single-safety looks, Georgia held Benny Snell and UK to its second-lowest rushing total of the season. There was a price to be paid for that, as Wilson notched his best completion percentage of the season, largely by throwing short passes the defense gave him, but most of it was empty yardage. Tucker made Wilson beat him and Kentucky’s passing attack wasn’t up to the challenge.
- Kirby deserves a ton of credit for the outcome, too. For once, he had this team ready to play from the opening kickoff, and it showed as the Dawgs grabbed an early lead and never relinquished it. No, his team didn’t play a perfect game — the two fumbles cost Georgia some points and the defense appeared to relax a little when it got to 28-3 — but they were better focused than any game I’ve seen them play so far in 2018. Considering how many underclassmen got significant time on the field in a road game with a division title at stake, Smart did a helluva job on the day.
Now we come to the final quarter of the season, with two traditional rivals and three straight home games before facing the Death Star in the conference championship game. I am really curious to see how much growth is left to coax out of this team’s young talent in those three games and how Kirby manages it.